Instructional Assessment @ Seattle Central

Writing Program Outcomes

This document is part of a larger document related to assessment.
It was created by Austin Community College.

Program outcomes are the vehicle for determining whether the unit’s purpose is being achieved. Outcomes information provides concrete, meaningful, and useful evidence of achievement of the unit’s purpose, i.e., whether the unit is doing what it proposes to be doing.

Well designed outcomes also provide information to direct improvement, if such is needed. Thus, a unit’s instructional outcomes serve as the foundation for assessment planning.

Outcomes statements

• provide direction to the program,
• communicate what the faculty in the program deem important,
• identify the intended results of the educational program,
• describe what students should be able to know, think, or do,
• describe the attitudes, values and skills to be acquired by completing an
   educational program,
• are indicators of the effectiveness of a program.

Outcomes statements are needed before appropriate assessment tools and procedures can be selected or designed. Having outcomes statements that are both clear and measurable greatly facilitates the identification of appropriate assessment techniques.

Essential Components of Learning Outcomes

The essential components of outcomes statements are described below. After a component is defined, the phrase that illustrates it will be extracted from the following outcomes statement:

After analyzing and interpreting information from public opinion polls, the graduating journalism major will be able to communicate the results to at least three different groups in written, oral, and graphic forms.

Who will demonstrate results?

Specify subgroups.

• students majoring in the program,
• students taking specific courses to meet requirements for other programs,
• graduates of the program,
• employers of program graduates,

            EX: graduating journalism major [student]

What specific behavior or action will demonstrate results?

Specify actions or behaviors that follow instruction and could serve as evidence that the

objective has been achieved.

• Use action verbs,
• Identify the "focus" of learning--content, concept, skill, attitude,
• Make sure the action or behavior is specific enough to be measurable.

EX: communicate results in written, oral, and graphic forms to at least three

different groups. 

When will results be demonstrated?

Give information about situations in which the student will be required to demonstrate

the behavior

• at the beginning and end of a course or the program,
• following a specific course,
• following graduation,
• following a specific task

EX: After analyzing and interpreting information from public opinion polls

Outcomes vs. Goals

There may be a tendency to create outcomes that describe instructional activities (goals) rather than student learning (outcomes). Although goals and outcomes seem similar, some differences do exist. 

At a minimum, outcome statements should describe student behaviors and products that faculty would accept as evidence that learning was achieved, thus providing documentation of the effectiveness of the curriculum. Goal statements are helpful for directing instructional  activities, but are sometimes too general, broad, or vague for developing specific tools to assess student learning. Goals provide the context for outcomes.

Goals                                                              Outcomes

broad, future-oriented statements            brief, clear statements of results

reflect what the program is striving           describe the desired learning/behaviors
towards or hoping to become                   of students completing the program or course

refer to instructional processes/activities   refer to results of instructional processes/

used primarily in policy making and            used to assess effectiveness of curriculum
general program planning                         and provide information for improvements


Development of Learning Outcomes

Often outcomes are readily available in the unit. However, they may need to be put into written form, revised, or updated. When outcomes statements do not already exist, there are a number of processes that can be used to identify and develop them.

Examine mission and goal statements as well as other materials that describe the program.  A linkage should exist between the mission of the college and that of the unit. Likewise, there should be a connection between a unit's purpose and the outcomes of the program.

Use faculty discussion sessions and/or surveys. This can be done in a couple of ways. The obvious one is to ask faculty what students should be able to do before they complete the program. Another way would be to ask faculty to visualize the ideal student that has just completed the program. Then ask them to describe what the student knows (cognitive), can do (cognitive, psychomotor), and cares about (affective). Finally, faculty could discuss what achievements are expected of students that have completed the program.

Collect and review outcomes from similar programs and external sources. This is one way to determine what is distinctive about a particular program. Discipline-specific professional societies and accrediting bodies can be good sources of outcomes. Before adopting an outcome from an external source, the faculty should determine whether the outcome is appropriate for their program based on the student characteristics, resources, curriculum, etc., associated with the program.

Use focus group discussions and surveys. Ask students (entering and current) what their expectations and goals are. Alumni could be asked to describe what they felt they gained from the program. Both alumni and employers could be asked what outcomes they feel are important for the future employment of the program's graduates. By consulting these groups, faculty broaden their information base for identifying outcomes, and the groups may be more motivated to participate in other evaluation/assessment activities.

Describe the ideal student in your program at various phases throughout your program.  Be concrete and focus on those strengths, skills, and values that you feel are the result of, or at least supported and nurtured by, the program experience. Then ask: What does this student know? What can this student do? What does this student care about?

List and briefly describe the program experiences that contribute most to the development of the ideal student.

List the achievements you implicitly expect of graduates in each major field.

Describe your alumni in terms of such achievements as career accomplishments, lifestyles, citizenship activities, and aesthetic and intellectual involvement.

Collect and review instructional materials. Try sorting materials into 3 broad categories: recognition/recall, comprehension/simple application, critical thinking/ problem-solving.  Use any of the following: syllabi and course outlines, course assignments and tests, textbooks (especially the tables of contents, introductions, and summaries).

Collect and review documents that describe your department and its programs. brochures and catalog descriptions, accreditation reports, curriculum committee reports, mission statements.  These activities should result in a plethora of possible outcomes to assess the effectiveness of the unit.

Monitor your workload.  It is suggested, however, that only three to five objectives be assessed each year.  Reasons for this limitation are primarily based on the availability of resources—time, staff, ability of the unit to address the results of assessing the outcomes, etc. To refine or reduce a set of outcome statements, use the 25 percent problem. Imagine that you want to reduce program or course material by 25 percent. What outcomes would you keep and which would you discard?

Select outcomes that

• faculty agree are the most important,
• have the potential to make a difference in how the unit functions,
• will yield information that will help a unit learn about and improve itself,
• will insure the assessment plan will actually be implemented.

When the unit’s outcomes have been identified document them.  You can use the Assessment Matters database.

Quality Check: Outcomes Statements

The outcome describes a learning result rather than a teaching process.
The outcome describes what the student will be able to demonstrate.
The outcome is measurable.
The outcome is specific.
The outcome addresses no more than a single result (uses no conjunctions!).
The outcome uses action verbs that specify definite, observable behaviors.
The outcome is clear: faculty, students, administrators, and people outside the
   unit are able to understand it.

The outcome is validated by departmental colleagues.
The outcome is clearly linked to unit goals.
The outcome is reasonable, given the ability of the students.


Page updated April 19, 2006 - Geoff Mathay


©2009 Seattle Central Community College