7 Things Institutions Should Consider Before SLO Testing

By Javarro Russell

With college loan debts soaring,more students and their families — along with policymakers, accrediting bodies and employers — are asking for concrete evidence about the quality of education provided at colleges and universities.

Student learning outcomes (SLO) assessments are useful for demonstrating how your institution enhances students’ knowledge and skills. SLOs can be used to do things like track performance over time and identify potential areas for improvement, which can inform decision making about curricula and other institutional improvements.

Here are seven things to consider before embarking on an SLO assessment program.

1. Start with “why?” and work backwards.

Do you need to meet an accreditation standard? Support claims about student performance? Compare the skill levels of different groups of students? When you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to evaluate with your student scores, you will be better positioned to choose the type of assessment that best meets your needs.

2. Engage your faculty.

SLO assessment is a group effort. The general education skills that are measured span many disciplines, which makes faculty input vital for choosing or developing the right assessment tools. It also ensures that the results are useful to your educators.

3. Plan to share your data.

Information from SLO assessments can be extremely valuable, especially when everyone benefits from the insights generated. Faculty, administrators and student success staff can all use assessment information to help make improvements in their particular fields, which makes for an even more successful institution. Plan to share at the outset.

4. Tell students why it matters.

Recent ETS research shows that when students understand the value and importance of the assessment process, they are inclined to take it more seriously, are more motivated to participate, and are more likely to generate higher scores. The result is a more accurate representation of their skill level.

It doesn’t take much to get students on board — simply stressing the importance of test results is enough to boost their motivation.

5. Be smart about sample selection.

If limited resources require you to limit sample sizes, be smart about your selection process to ensure you’re gathering useful, actionable data that’s representative of your entire student body. This is critical for a meaningful assessment.

What’s more ideal is testing your entire student population when they enter your institution, perhaps as part of freshman orientation, then again when they are about to graduate. This may yield better evidence of student performance and enable you to track their progress more effectively.

6. Require students to participate.

While a gift card or other reward can be a strong incentive, it also leads to self-selection of participants (i.e., those that are motivated by that particular reward), which may skew your results.

As an alternative, some schools require that students complete the SLO assessment to register for the next semester’s classes or to receive their diploma. This strategy has the benefit of treating all students equally and institutionalizes a culture of measurement.

7. Make sure your assessment fits your resources.

The availability of your resources will influence the type of assessment you choose, how you administer it, and how analyze your data.

Will you administer your test in person or online? Will it be during a class period, or will it require extra time? Will the data be analyzed in-house, by external assessment providers, or in some combination?

Time, cost, reporting format, and your specific goals will influence your choices — and ultimately, the success of your assessment program. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.