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Student Learning Outcomes in Higher Education

Along with increased competition for the best students and the most lucrative grants, institutions of higher education are also facing increased scrutiny to improve student learning and demonstrate program effectiveness. ETS's ongoing research offers administrators and school leaders a detailed look at how assessments have progressed over the years, and how an evidence-based assessment system for student learning can benefit today's schools.

Continuing a Culture of Evidence

Almost a decade ago, Educational Testing Service (ETS) produced a series of reports titled "A Culture of Evidence" that highlighted a number of changes in higher education assessment. Today, colleges and universities continue to face new challenges resulting from societal, technological and scientific influences. To address these changes, ETS has published a new series of reports titled "Continuing a Culture of Evidence" that describe current issues and trends in assessment and how they impact the needs of higher education institutions, students and other stakeholders.

  • Assessment for Improvement
    In this report, we discuss the shift from accountability-based assessment to improvement-based assessment. When conducted for improvement, assessment is more inclusive of institutional faculty and staff, more informative to colleges and universities, and — it is hoped — focused on enhancing instruction and learning. However, these positive outcomes do not come without challenges. Ultimately, assessment-for-improvement has implications for many of the people, processes and tools used to measure student learning.
  • Expanding Skills in Higher Education
    In this report, we discuss shifts in cognitive and noncognitive skills expected of college graduates in response to new educational and occupational demands. In particular, we describe these demands, the factors influencing them, and the impact of these factors on the instruction and assessment of skills needed for success in higher education and the workforce.
  • Student-Level Assessment
    In this report, the author discusses an increasing need to understand individual students rather than whole institutions. Previous models of assessment, which focused on comparability and accountability, made inferences at the group level, often comparing one institution to a group of similar institutions. However, emerging trends in the ways students learn, the sources of the learning, and the use of assessment results have made aggregate data alone insufficient. Greater consideration of student-level data could help to foster emerging educational trends as well as guide learning in existing colleges and universities.

A Culture of Evidence

In 2006, the nation turned its attention to accountability in higher education. As a leader in educational research and measurement, ETS joined the dialogue by examining the general topic of student learning outcomes. This examination resulted in a series of three Culture of Evidence reports in which ETS researchers identified the key issues of accountability and surveyed current practices in assessing student learning.

  • A Culture of Evidence: An Evidence-Centered Approach to Accountability for Student Learning Outcomes
    With higher education under increased pressure to prove accountability, ETS researchers developed a framework to improve, revise and introduce comprehensive systems for the collection and dissemination of information on student learning outcomes. This report presents a practical approach to help the educational community meet the call for accountability while respecting the diverse attributes of students, faculty and the institutions themselves. (Catherine M. Millett, David G. Payne, Carol A. Dwyer, Leslie M. Stickler and Jon J. Alexiou, 2008.)
  • A Culture of Evidence: Critical Features of Assessments for Postsecondary Student Learning
    National dialogue on accountability in higher education focuses on improving student learning and engagement. To provide higher education stakeholders with a greater understanding of current assessment tools, ETS researchers take a detailed look at available measurements in this "30,000 foot" overview. (Catherine M. Millett, Leslie M. Stickler, David G. Payne and Carol A. Dwyer, 2007.)
  • A Culture of Evidence: Postsecondary Assessments and Learning Outcomes
    To address the dearth of empirical data on student learning in higher education, ETS researchers take a macro look at current conditions affecting the postsecondary community. In this report, they provide an overview of the assessment landscape to outline accountability models and metrics used in higher education. (Carol A. Dwyer, Catherine M. Millett and David G. Payne, 2006.)
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