Every department or program defines key learning outcomes for the major, prepares a curriculum map to link major requirements to the outcomes, assesses student work to see how well the outcomes are being accomplished, and uses findings to improve the academic program.  Departments and programs also review their contributions to general education and assess selected courses to see how well students are achieving the general education outcomes.

Triennial Program Report & Annual Program Update

Senior administration reviews curricular and co-curricular programs on a three-year cycle.  Every department or program submits a Triennial Program Report according to the cycle below.  In the intervening years, the department or program submits an Annual Program Update.  Email your report or update by June 30 to the Associate Dean of the Faculty: Bob Williams (robert.f.williams@lawrence.edu).

2017, 2020, 2023... 2018, 2021, 2024... 2019, 2022, 2025...

Chinese & Japanese
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Interdisciplinary Programs
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Conservatory of Music
Jazz & Improvisational Music
Major Ensembles
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University Courses

Department & Program Assessment Guide

A useful way to think about your curriculum is to pose three questions:

  1. How will students be different when they are finished with this program?  What will they know and be able to do?  How will their view of the subject and their own capacities be changed?  Where and how will these changes happen?
  2. How will we know they are different?  What evidence will we have gathered?  Where and how will we gather it?
  3. How will they know they are different?  What will we do along the way to help them reflect on and integrate their learning and sense their increasing knowledge and ability?

These questions lead us to think about intentions, performances, and assessments. To put this into practice, use the guides below to define learning outcomes, create a curriculum map, develop assessment methods, use findings, and prepare updates and reports.

+ How to Define Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes say what students should be able to do upon completion of the major. While students are expected to grow in many ways and to develop their own interests and talents, every department or program should define a few key outcomes that all students in the major are expected to accomplish and that the department will assess to determine the effectiveness of its academic program.

Learning outcomes are written in the form:

Students should be able to <action verb> <object>.

Use just one action verb and one object to make the outcome assessable. State the outcome in language a student is likely to understand.


<Department/program> majors should be able to:

Produce sound philosophical discourse.

Analyze a literary text.

Translate prose from Latin into English.

Critique a mathematical argument.

Design an experiment to test a hypothesis.

Describe monuments of art in historical context.

Design a performance environment for the production of a play.

Use tools of economic theory to analyze an economic problem.


A useful strategy is to define one or more high-level outcomes that provide overarching goals for the major and then to define specific components that can be directly assessed in Senior Experiences and selected work from gateway courses for the major.  Each component can have its own rating scale or rubric.


Economics majors should be able to develop an economic analysis. Specifically, students should be able to:

Formulate a problem for economic analysis;

Find relevant literature that bears on the problem;

Interpret quantitative evidence and regression analyses;


Quality Standards

Quality standards for performance are spelled out in rubrics (see "How to Assess" below).


  • Define learning outcomes for every major offered by the department or program. There is likely to be overlap, but there should also be differences that distinguish the majors.
  • Focus on a few key outcomes that are expected of all students and that will be assessed. Students should go beyond these outcomes in individual ways.
  • Avoid duplicating GER outcomes. For example, "Students will be able to follow disciplinary conventions when writing or speaking" is a GER outcome that can be assessed along with major outcomes when evaluating a Senior Experience.
  • State outcomes with just one action verb and one object. For high-level outcomes, define the components to be assessed
  • State outcomes plainly so that students, faculty, and others can understand what they mean and agree when they have been achieved.

+ How to Prepare a Curriculum Map

Map Outcomes to Requirements

Once learning outcomes have been defined, prepare a curriculum map that shows how the outcomes map onto major courses and other requirements.  The simplest way to do this is to make a spreadsheet with outcomes as rows and courses as columns (as in the template below).  Mark the courses that address each outcome by indicating whether they introduce (I), reinforce (R), and/or evaluate (E) that outcome (add color coding to highlight the structure).  Do the same for non-course requirements.  The curriculum map will help you identify assessment points as well as gaps in the academic program.

Click here for a Curriculum Map Template (XLS).

+ How to Assess

Once you have your learning outcomes and curriculum map in place, it's useful to approach assessment in the following way:

  1. Assess work produced by those completing the major to see if the desired learning outcomes are being achieved.  This will typically be work that is part of the Senior Experience.  Use rubrics to rate work samples according to a set of criteria or developmental benchmarks.
  2. To check students' development, assess work in selected gateway courses that develop specific knowledge and skills, especially for areas of weakness identified in #1.
  3. Make adjustments to curriculum or instruction and use the assessments in #1 and 2 to gauge their impact.

The sections below describe how to make a rubric, use it to assess student work, and pool findings for review.

Make a rubric

For each outcome or component, create a rubric that describes performance at different levels of development.  Decide on a number of levels (from 3 to 5) and a label for each level (such as: 1 = initial, 2 = basic, 3 = proficient, 4 = advanced).  Make it clear which level is the target (3 = proficient).  Provide a description of performance at each level so faculty can rate work consistently and so students can use the rubric to check their own progress.

How to write a rubric

  1. Write a description for the "proficient" level first. This should clearly describe achievement of the outcome.
  2. Write a description for the "advanced" level next, indicating features that mark expert performance. This gives students a higher level to strive for and assessors a way to identify performance that is a model for others.
  3. Write a description for the "basic" level next, indicating features that are emerging but not yet mastered. This helps students identify how they are progressing.
  4. Write a description for the "initial" level last, identifying the foundation (prerequisite knowledge or skill) on which the outcome is built. This gives students and faculty a starting point for learning.
  5. Tweak the descriptions to clearly distinguish each level from the one just above and below, forming a progressive scale from initial to advanced.
  6. Edit descriptions to make them concise, and highlight the words or phrases that distinguish each level. This will make it easier to use the rubric to rate student work.
  7. Indicate which level is the target for students in the major.

Click here for a Rubric Template (DOC).

Sample rubrics:

Lawrence's GER rubrics

AAC&U VALUE rubrics

AALHE sample rubrics


  • Give precise characteristics of performance at each level; avoid sweeping statements like "excellent," "average," or "poor."
  • State what is evident as well as what is lacking; avoid defining a level solely in terms of deficits ("lacks X, Y, Z... ").
  • Limit the criteria at each level; focus on the essential.
  • Contrast adjacent levels to make sure they distinguish performance well.
  • Avoid recapitulating the GER writing/speaking rubric. You can use that rubric alongside a rubric focused on major outcomes.
  • Test the rubric with samples of student work and check for consistency among raters. (Also do this for training before rating student work.)

Rate student work

To assess how well students are achieving key outcomes for the major, use the rubric to rate Senior Experiences (culminating projects or portfolios). Mark the level of achievement on the rating scale and jot comments on strengths and areas for improvement. This can be done for individual work, a collection of work, or samples from a larger body of work. The rubric can be incorporated into regular course grading or used separately to rate samples.

To assess the emergence of knowledge and skills at key points in the major, use the same rubric to assess selected work in gateway courses. Highlight the characteristics that resulted in work being classified at a particular level, and comment on strengths and areas for improvement. Look for patterns and compare findings to those for the Senior Experience.


  • Focus the assessment: Select particular outcomes or components to assess at each point or in each cycle. Use findings from past assessments to guide you.
  • Sample widely: Rate a single item (a selected assignment) from many students to get a cross-section.
  • Divide the labor: Have one person rate major outcomes while another rates GER outcomes (writing or speaking), or have different people rate different components.
  • Check reliability: Have two or more assessors rate the same work and compare findings. (This is good training and can stimulate useful dialogue.)

Pool your findings

Gather faculty assessments of student work, both quantitative (ratings) and qualitative (comments). For each outcome, prepare a table, graph, or narrative summarizing the findings.  Describe common strengths and areas for improvement. Discuss these findings as a department and plan actions (see below).

Click here for a sample of how to report assessment data (PDF).

Click here for a sample Studio Art Excel tool for computing results (XLS).


  1. Compare findings from your direct measures (assessment of student work) with those from indirect measures (surveys, focus groups, or structured interviews) to try to identify causes for the results you found.
  2. Use a chart or table to present the full range of data (not just the average). This will give a better sense of the variability in student performance.
  3. Look for patterns and compare to previous years.
  4. Relate your findings to your curriculum map as you consider what adjustments might improve student learning.


+ How to Use Findings

Assessment should stimulate useful conversations among department faculty.  Most important is that you use assessment findings to make improvements, large or small; otherwise, effort will have been expended for little benefit.  Accreditors are mainly interested in how we "close the loop" by using assessment findings for program improvement.

Discuss findings

Gather your ratings and comments and discuss them as a department.  Make this part of an annual retreat.

  1. Look for evidence of strengths and weaknesses in the academic program.
  2. Examine sample work as a group and discuss.
  3. Update your curriculum map and check where knowledge and skills are developed.
  4. Compare findings to previous years to identify trends.

Plan actions

  1. Consider possible changes to curriculum, instruction, or assessment.
  2. Plan follow-up (surveys, focus groups, student interviews) to gather more information on areas of concern.
  3. Decide how you will evaluate the impact of any program changes (what will you look for?).
  4. Document findings and planned actions for your annual assessment update.


  • Tweak requirements, assignments, guides, etc., to close gaps in the academic program or strengthen areas of concern.
  • Refine your outcome statements, rubrics, and assessment methods to align them or to make them more useful and reliable (consistent across raters).
  • Identify earlier assessment points to gather developmental data or assess outcomes not addressed by the Senior Experience.  Selected assignments in required gateway courses can be used for this purpose.
  • Shift focus as needed: identify particular areas of concern to probe or follow up in the next assessment cycle.

+ How to Report

Every department or program submits an Annual Program Update with an updated curriculum map and summary of assessment findings.  The update should be concise and forthright: what you did, what you found, and what you're doing as a result. Your annual update provides a record of progress and an important source of information for your Triennial Program Report. 

Prepare Annual Update

Use the Annual Program Update to prepare your update.  Fill in each section concisely as directed, and attach an updated curriculum map.  Email your update by June 30 to the Associate Dean of the Faculty (see top of page).

Prepare Triennial Report

Use the Triennial Program Report to prepare your report.  Gather material and write the State of the Department narrative.  Email your report by June 30 to the Associate Dean of the Faculty (see top of page).

+ What to Do After Reporting

Consult with the Assessment Committee

If you are planning to probe an area of concern or are considering changes to your learning outcomes, curriculum map, assessment methods, or rubrics, feel free to consult with the Assessment Committee for help.  Email the chair to get started.  If you receive feedback from the Assessment Committee on your annual update, please consider the committee's suggestions to improve your assessment processes or make them more useful to you.


Be sure to save your assessment materials (learning outcomes, curriculum map, and rubrics), updates and reports, and committee feedback in your department share space so they are available for follow-up studies and future reporting.

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