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Assessment Tools: Introduction


For assessing qualitative student work such as essays, projects, reports, or presentations, we recommend the use of rubrics.  They serve well to denote clearly the specific expectations for an assignment and for student performance. They can be used for grading, for providing feedback to students, and for informing and encouraging students to think about their own learning.

Rubrics are not the only tool, however, for collecting data for assessment of student learning outcomes. Depending on the outcomes to be assessed and on resources available (time and goodwill especially), other methods and tools may serve well:

Curriculum Mapping

While not a tool for data collection, a good curriculum map can serve to focus assessment, and the improvements that follow, where it will be most useful, informative, or effective.

Focus Groups

The candid reflections or ideas from a small group of students or participants can provide unanticipated insights valuable for guiding the direction and methods for assessments.


Portfolios can provide a window into the process of student learning, whether across a semester-long project or a four-year tenure at the university, that can be assessed (usually by using a rubric).

Structured Interviews

While time-consuming, structured interviews are useful when you want to ask specific questions, but also want to leave room for unplanned-for topics or ideas to emerge. 


Whether a program-based survey of current majors or recent alumni or an analysis of SERU survey results, well-crafted survey questions can yield important information about student perceptions and experiences.

 Conducting an assessment takes time, thought, attention, planning, and often collaboration. Each assessment tool, whether a short survey or detailed rubric, will be useful only insofar as it both addresses the outcomes well and is feasible to use.