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Outcomes Assessment

Key Content Areas of an Outcomes Assessment Plan

The academic business unit’s outcomes assessment plan must be comprehensive and encompass five key areas.

> Key Content Areas of an Outcomes Assessment Plan

Key Content AreasAn Assessment Plan’s Critical Elements

Outcomes assessment is a process for measuring and improving the overall performance and effectiveness of an academic business unit in its entire range of activities and operations. Therefore, the academic business unit’s outcomes assessment plan must be comprehensive and must encompass the following key content areas:

  1. Mission and Broad-Based Goals
  2. Student Learning Assessment
  3. Operational Assessment
  4. Linkage of Assessment with Strategic Planning and Budgeting
  5. Appendices

1. Mission and Broad-Based Goals

Since the IACBE takes a mission-driven and outcomes-based approach to accreditation and since the academic business unit’s mission and goals provide strategic direction for guiding its decision making, the academic business unit’s outcomes assessment plan must provide for the assessment of the extent to which the unit’s mission and broad-based goals are being accomplished.

Consequently, the outcomes assessment plan must include a statement of the mission and broad-based goals of the academic business unit. In addition, the broad-based goals should represent the general aims or aspirations of the academic business unit and should flow directly from its mission. In other words, the academic business unit’s broad-based goals should be instrumental to mission accomplishment in the sense that achievement of the goals would provide evidence that the academic business unit is accomplishing its mission. Therefore, each broad-based goal should be associated with and mapped to some aspect of the academic business unit’s mission.

Furthermore, the academic business unit’s broad-based goals must include both broad student learning goals and broad operational goals.

The academic business unit’s broad-based student learning goals must be stated from the students’ perspective (and not in terms of what the academic business unit will do, will provide, or intends to accomplish), and must clearly describe what students are expected to learn, know, understand, or be able to do as a result of completing their programs of study. In addition, the business unit’s student learning goals should encompass the intended student learning outcomes in its business programs (see Section 2: Student Learning Assessment below) and should be broad, general aggregates of those outcomes (i.e., each learning goal should have multiple intended learning outcomes associated with it).

Similarly, the academic business unit’s broad-based operational goals must clearly describe what the academic business unit will do, will provide, or intends to accomplish in terms of its overall organizational and functional performance. In addition, the business unit’s operational goals should encompass its intended operational outcomes (see Section 3: Operational Assessment below) and should be broad, general aggregates of those outcomes (i.e., each operational goal should have multiple intended operational outcomes associated with it).

With the linkage between mission-goals-outcomes structured in this way, i.e., with broad-based goals flowing from the mission and encompassing the intended student learning and operational outcomes, evidence of achievement of the intended outcomes generated through the student learning and operational assessment processes will constitute evidence of the accomplishment of the broad-based goals, which in turn constitutes evidence that the academic business unit is accomplishing its mission.

For more information on the hierarchical relationships between mission, broad-based goals, and intended outcomes, see The Hierarchy of Outcomes Assessment.

2. Student Learning Assessment

The outcomes assessment plan must state intended student learning outcomes for each business program to be included in the accreditation review. These intended learning outcomes should be appropriate to the program’s area of study and should take the following forms:

  • Business-Related Content Outcomes (e.g., outcomes relating to discipline-specific knowledge, concepts/principles, theories, etc., in the program’s area of study)
  • Business-Related Professional Skills Outcomes (e.g., outcomes relating to leadership abilities, professional communication skills, ethical reasoning abilities, teamwork skills, quantitative and analytical abilities, information technology skills, etc.)

In developing its outcomes assessment plan, the academic business unit must ensure that the intended student learning outcomes in each business program substantially encompass and are linked to the relevant ‘Key Learning Outcomes for Business Programs’ as identified by the IACBE. These learning outcomes are defined for each degree level (i.e., for associate-, bachelor’s-, master’s-, and doctoral-level programs) and are associated with those content- and skills-related areas that comprise typical programs in business. While the academic business unit is not required to use these particular outcomes or the specific wording in these outcomes, and may include additional content- and skills-related intended learning outcomes in its assessment plan, it must ensure, at a minimum, that the content- and skills-related areas that are addressed in the Key Learning Outcomes are substantially incorporated in its own intended learning outcomes. In some cases, certain specialized business programs, as a result of having a different focus than that of mainstream business programs, may not substantially encompass the relevant Key Learning Outcomes. To the extent that such specialized programs are mission-driven, academically rigorous, and market-responsive, some variation from this requirement may be justifiable. Consequently, for any business program included in the accreditation review for which the outcomes assessment plan does not substantially encompass the relevant Key Learning Outcomes for Business Programs, it is incumbent upon the academic business unit to provide a rationale and to justify its case for an exception to this requirement. A copy of the document defining these key learning outcomes is provided below:

Key Learning Outcomes for Business Programs (PDF)

The intended student learning outcomes for all programs to be included in the accreditation review must be program-level outcomes. More specifically, the intended student learning outcomes for associate-, bachelor’s-, master’s-, and doctoral-level programs must clearly describe what students are expected to know and be able to do at the conclusion of each degree program.

Furthermore, the intended student learning outcomes for all associate-, bachelor’s-, master’s-, and doctoral-level programs must be appropriate to the degree level with which they are associated. In other words, they must reflect higher orders of learning and skills development at each successively-higher degree level. For example, the intended student learning outcomes for a master’s-level program must reflect appropriate master’s-level discipline-specific knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies, and these must be more challenging to acquire than the discipline-specific knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies for a bachelor’s-level program. Therefore, the intended student learning outcomes for all programs to be included in the accreditation review must be formulated so as to represent higher levels of expected student performance as a student progresses from one degree level to the next. For guidance on developing intended student learning outcomes that are degree-level appropriate, see the Lumina Foundation’s publication entitled “The Degree Qualifications Profile.” This document is provided below:

The Degree Qualifications Profile (PDF)

In addition, the intended student learning outcomes must be measurable, must be stated using active verbs (e.g., according to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives), and must clearly describe the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies that students are expected to acquire as a result of completing their programs of study. For more information on Bloom’s Taxonomy and writing measurable learning outcomes statements, see Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives and Writing Intended Student Learning Outcomes Statements.

For each program to be included in the accreditation review, the outcomes assessment plan must also identify appropriate measures of student learning (and their associated evaluation rubrics) that will be employed to assess the intended student learning outcomes in the program. Furthermore, each intended student learning outcome in each program must be assessed by at least two different measures of student learning, at least one of which must be a direct measure. For more information about direct and indirect measures of student learning, see Student Learning Assessment Measures.

Although the academic business unit must identify appropriate measures of student learning for each program, it is not required that different programs have different learning measures. In other words, it is possible for a single measurement instrument to be used in multiple programs. For example, a capstone project in a strategic management course could be used as a direct measure of student learning in both a Bachelor of Business Administration program and a Bachelor of Science in Management program.

In addition, for each measurement tool (and each associated evaluation rubric) that will be employed in student learning assessment, the outcomes assessment plan must specify the performance objectives (measurable performance targets/criteria) that will be used by the academic business unit to determine the extent to which the intended student learning outcomes are being achieved.

Performance objectives for student learning can be defined as follows:

Performance Objectives for Student Learning: The desired measurable results (or targets) for student performance on the learning assessment instruments, tools, and metrics that are used to assess the extent of achievement of intended student learning outcomes

Example of a Performance Objective for Student Learning:

For example, if the academic business unit is using a comprehensive project in a capstone course as a direct measure of student learning, then a performance objective might be that, on the rating scale in the project evaluation rubric (with ‘exemplary’ being the highest rating), at least 80% of the students will achieve a performance rating of ‘acceptable’ or higher on each of the evaluation criteria associated with the intended student learning outcomes assessed by the project.

For additional information about direct and indirect measures of student learning, see Student Learning Assessment Measures.

3. Operational Assessment

Operational EffectivenessSince the quality of the academic business unit’s performance depends on its ability to manage its human, physical, financial, and technological resources and its educational processes effectively, i.e., on the extent of its operational effectiveness, the academic business unit’s outcomes assessment plan must provide for operational assessment.

Therefore, the outcomes assessment plan must state intended operational outcomes for the academic business unit (i.e., outcomes relating to the effective management of the unit’s academic resources and educational processes). These outcomes must be measurable and must clearly describe specific desired results for the academic business unit’s critical success factors (CSFs) or key performance indicators (KPIs) relating to its resources and processes that will be evaluated in the determination of the operational effectiveness of the academic business unit.

The following listing provides examples of possible areas for which the academic business unit might define critical success factors (CSFs) and key performance indicators (KPIs) for use in its operational assessment:

  • Student Satisfaction with Teaching and Advising
  • Student Satisfaction with Courses and Degree Programs
  • Program Curricula
  • Faculty/Staff Performance
  • Strategic Plan/Budget Performance
  • Academic/Student Support Services
  • Learning and Technological Resources, and Facilities
  • Co-Curricular and Experiential Learning Programs
  • Retention, Graduation, and Placement Rates
  • Comparisons with Peer Institutions
  • Other Key Performance Indicators (determined by the academic business unit)

The outcomes assessment plan must also identify the tools, instruments, or methods that will be employed to assess the academic business unit’s intended operational outcomes.

The following listing provides examples of possible tools/instruments/methods that an academic business unit might use in its operational assessment:

  • Student Satisfaction Surveys
  • Exit Surveys
  • Alumni/Employer Surveys
  • Course Evaluations
  • Budget Performance Analyses
  • Execution of Action Plans
  • SWOT Analyses
  • Curriculum/Program Reviews
  • Benchmarking Studies (analyses of comparisons with similar institutions)
  • Strategic Plan Performance (achievement of goals and objectives)
  • Faculty and Staff Performance Reviews

In addition, for each tool, instrument, or method that will be used in the assessment of operational outcomes, the outcomes assessment plan must specify the performance objectives (measurable performance targets/criteria) that, if achieved, will be evidence of operational effectiveness of the academic business unit.

Performance objectives for operational effectiveness can be defined as follows:

Performance Objectives for Operational Effectiveness: The desired measurable results (or targets) for the tools, instruments, and methods that are used to assess the extent of achievement of intended operational outcomes

Example of a Performance Objective for Operational Effectiveness:

If the academic business unit has identified an intended operational outcome pertaining to faculty teaching and is using a senior exit survey as a measure of this outcome, then a performance objective might be that 90% or more of the students will be either ‘satisfied’ or ‘highly satisfied’ with each aspect of faculty teaching as identified by relevant items in the survey instrument.

Examples of survey and evaluation forms that can be used as both operational assessment tools and indirect measures of student learning are provided below.

Example of an Undergraduate Student Exit Survey (PDF)

Example of an Undergraduate Alumni Survey (PDF)

Example of an MBA Student Exit Survey (PDF)

Example of an MBA Alumni Survey (PDF)

Example of a Student Self-Evaluation of Internship Form (PDF)

For more information on operational effectiveness, see Michael Porter and Operational Effectiveness.

4. Linkage of Assessment with Strategic Planning and Budgeting

Strategic PlanningThe extent of the academic business unit’s performance and the degree of its overall effectiveness depend on its continuous improvement efforts in meeting future challenges. Since this requires any necessary changes and improvements that are identified as result of the outcomes assessment process to be incorporated into its planning process for the future, the academic business unit must provide for the linkage of its outcomes assessment and strategic planning processes.

Therefore, the outcomes assessment plan must describe the ways in which the results from implementing the plan (i.e., changes and improvements needed) are linked to both the academic business unit and institutional strategic planning processes. If possible, the outcomes assessment process should also be connected to the institutional budgeting process.

5. Appendices

The appendices constitute the final component of an outcomes assessment plan. The appendices must contain:

  • blank copies of the measurement instruments (assessment tools) that are used in the academic business unit’s student learning and operational assessment processes.
  • blank copies of the associated evaluation rubrics that will be used to evaluate performance on the measurement tools.

Note: For security and copyright reasons, if an examination from an external vendor is being used as a direct measure of student learning, do not include a copy of the exam in the outcomes assessment plan. Most vendors will provide an exam content outline that summarizes the types of questions included on the exam. Please use this content summary for this purpose.

The outcomes assessment plan must be prepared using the template developed by the IACBE for this purpose. A copy of the IACBE’s outcomes assessment plan template is provided below:

Outcomes Assessment Plan Template (DOCX)

The IACBE has developed a handbook containing guidelines and directions for preparing an outcomes assessment plan that meets the IACBE’s expectations for an effective quality management system. The handbook is designed to be used in conjunction with the template that the IACBE has developed for use by its members in preparing their outcomes assessment plans. The handbook is provided below:

Guidelines for Preparing an Outcomes Assessment Plan (PDF)

A copy of the IACBE document outlining the five key content areas of an assessment plan as described above is provided below:

Key Content Areas of an Outcomes Assessment Plan for Business Programs (PDF).

In addition, the IACBE has developed a comprehensive example of a complete outcomes assessment plan based on this template form. The example can be used as a model to guide IACBE members in the preparation of their own assessment plan documents. For a copy of the sample outcomes assessment plan, please contact IACBE World Headquarters.

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