Phase I: Specify & Plan

During this first phase, the focus is on identifying:

  • Student learning outcomes
  • Information that will be examined related to each outcome
  • Criteria to determine whether the program achieved the outcome

I. Student Learning Outcomes

Every academic program should define 5–7 learning outcomes they seek to achieve. These outcomes should focus on what the students are expected to know or be able to do when they successfully complete the academic program.

Student Learning Outcomes


Student learning outcomes are operational statements describing specific student behaviors that evidence the acquisition of desired knowledge, skills, abilities, capacities, attitudes, or dispositions.


Students will be able to synthesize in-depth information of (subject) in the development of a research proposal.

Student learning outcomes should be written using active verbs that describe what students should be able to do, know, or produce. Outcomes should be specific, measurable, and attainable within the context of the program. As a reminder, these outcomes are assessed at the academic program level; they are not course level objectives.

II. Measures

For each student learning outcome, identify both direct and indirect measures that provide information and evidence of whether the student learning outcome is achieved.

Direct measures should be the primary means of demonstrating that student learning outcomes have been achieved. Direct assessment of student learning outcomes can be examined using embedded course assignments, capstone projects, portfolios, field experiences, and performances. If academic programs use published exams, such as exams for licensure or certification, as a requirement for completion of an academic program, the exam results can be used as a direct measure.

Indirect measures operate best as a support to the information gathered through direct measures. Alone, they are not sufficient to demonstrate the achievement of student learning outcomes. Indirect information is often gathered through surveys, interviews, and focus groups. It reflects the opinions and perceptions about a student learning outcome.

Example of Direct and Indirect Measures for the same Student Learning Outcome

Student Learning Outcome

Direct Measure

Indirect Measure

Students will be able to synthesize in-depth information of (subject) in the development of a research proposal.

The research proposal, written as a capstone experience, is assessed against a faculty- developed rubric.

Final course grades from the Crafting Research Proposals course.

Why are final course grades indirect measures?

Although a course grade provides information regarding progress toward the student learning outcome, a grade includes aspects that are not necessarily related to student learning. One example is attendance. While attendance may impact student learning, it is not directly related to what the student learned. Additionally, a final course grade often reflects progress toward many learning outcomes and is a compilation of the student’s progress toward all of these outcomes. Singling out a research proposal with a rubric that details components and degrees of competency would create a direct measure of student learning.

There is no specific number of measures that should be included for each outcome; however, plans should include as many direct measures as possible. A suggested ratio of direct to indirect measures is 2:1.

Criteria for Success

For each Measure, identify a criterion that indicates that students have acquired the desired learning outcome. The criteria should be realistic and do not need to indicate perfection. Keep in mind that criteria are levels of success that you are striving to achieve.

Student Learning Outcome



Students will be able to synthesize in-depth information of (subject) in the development of a research proposal.

Assessment of research proposal for Crafting Research Proposals course

90% of the students achieve ratings of 4 or better, using a rubric with a scale of 1–5.

Course grades from the Crafting Research Proposals course

100% of students in the major will complete the course with a passing grade of C or better.

To determine meaningful and realistic criteria, look at past information about student work, alumni surveys, or employer surveys and feedback. The information you collect, while not perfect, should assist you in selecting meaningful criteria.