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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Learning Outcomes

Assessment of student learning outcomes at UNC-Chapel Hill is part of a comprehensive process for evaluating student achievement of educational goals, reviewing academic program quality, and benchmarking our programs against external standards.

Faculty responsible for each academic program within the University are required to: (1) articulate clear, measurable student learning outcomes for students who complete the program; (2) identify methods and criteria for measuring attainment of those outcomes; (3) gather evidence on a regular basis to analyze the extent to which students are actually achieving these outcomes; and, (4) report on the use the results of these assessments for program improvement.

Each program is required to develop and maintain an assessment plan that details how the learning outcomes will be measured. Methods used to assessing student learning vary by discipline, but all include direct assessment measures such as reviews of student papers, performances, and other work products.

All programs also undergo a rigorous external Program Review process every 8 years which examines student learning outcomes in addition to other program outcomes such as graduation rates, faculty excellence in teaching and research, and student support services. Professional schools are also evaluated by external accrediting bodies in their fields, many of which have their own requirements for assessment of learning outcomes.

UNC-Chapel Hill also assesses learning outcomes of its general education curriculum “Making Connections” which is completed by every undergraduate degree-seeking student. As an example, assessments of student performance in entry level science and mathematics courses revealed disparities in outcomes for underrepresented minority and first generation students. These findings led to course redesigns that have improved achievement and retention in STEM majors. The University also evaluates the effectiveness of the general education curriculum by assessing critical thinking and written communication skills of its seniors. Recently, these assessments included evaluations of senior student capstone papers using the AAC&U VALUE rubrics and pilot studies using the CLA and ETS standardized examinations.

Qualitative methods are also used to assess student learning and development across the  undergraduate career. Interviews and focus groups about participation in undergraduate research, study abroad, service learning, and co-curricular activities have yielded important information about how students integrate and apply knowledge from the classroom to real world problems.

Data on student perceptions of their gains in skills and knowledge are gathered from the Graduating Senior Survey and the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Survey. The SERU survey allows UNC-Chapel Hill to compare the academic engagement and outcomes of its students against those at other major public research universities. Results from this survey are shared with program faculty in each major. As an example, the finding that students perceived that their quantitative skills were weak relative to other skills at graduation has prompted additional efforts to support success in STEM courses.

Alumni outcomes are also assessed and the results have been used by faculty to identify skills that are most important for post-graduate success. Findings from the First Destination Survey (6 months after graduation), and other surveys of graduates 5 and 10 years later provided evidence that high numbers of UNC-Chapel Hill alumni go on to graduate and professional school. Feedback from alumni in the workforce have confirmed the value of their UNC-Chapel Hill education but also informed faculty about how to help liberal arts majors build upon their many strengths to succeed in today’s job market.

Learning Assessment Examples

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill administered the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics in Spring 2015.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted a Senior-only benchmarked administration of the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics in Spring 2015. The results are displayed below in the SLO Results tab.

For additional information on UNC-Chapel Hill’s process for administering AAC&U VALUE Rubrics, please click on the Assessment Process Tab below. For information on the students included in the administration, please click the Students Tested Tab.

Why did you choose the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics for your institutional assessment?

We chose the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics because we wanted to carry out an authentic assessment of the actual work products of our seniors.  We administered the CLA several years ago but felt that assessment might not have captured a typical sample of seniors' work due to the possibility of selection bias among the students who volunteered.   Using the AAC&U offered us the opportunity to assess the critical thinking and written communication skills of a more representative sample of the work of our senior population across various majors and disciplines.  

Which The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students are assessed? When?

Students whose work was assessed as part of this project were enrolled in senior-level courses offered in spring and fall 2014. 

How are assessment data collected?

The project involved an assessment of 332 student papers from a sample of senior-level courses.   Instructors from the College of Arts and Sciences and professional schools provided the papers which were then de-identified.  A team of doctoral students were trained on the use of the Critical Thinking and Written Communications rubrics and guided through a calibration exercise by staff from the Center for Faculty Excellence.  Raters were instructed to rate the work in terms of expected performance for a graduating senior. Each paper was rated using both the Critical Thinking and Written Communications rubrics.  One-fourth of the papers were assessed by two different raters to examine inter-rater reliability; the two ratings were subsequently averaged for the analysis.

How are data reported within The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill?

The results of the ratings were analyzed by the Office of Institutional Research & Assessment.  Descriptive statistics on each item were generated separately for the two rubrics.  These results have been shared and discussed with the College of Arts & Sciences' Office of Undergraduate Education faculty and administrators.  They are also being presented to the Provost's assessment working group and the directors of undergraduate studies in individual departments this spring.  

How are assessment data at UNC-Chapel Hill used to guide program improvements?

This was our first attempt to conduct an authentic assessment of  Critical Thinking and Written Communication Skills using student work from across the curriculum.  The results from the Written Communications assessment are informing  discussions about the effectiveness of the current general education writing course requirements.  We examining the results of the Critical Thinking assessment with those from another project that used the VALUE rubrics to evaluate a set of student portfolios, and the findings will also be compared with resultsfrom a standardized essay examination administered to another group of seniors.  In addition, we are designing a second paper-rating project to be carried out next fall using what we learned about best practices for institution-wide assessments using rubrics. 

The students whose papers were used in this assessment were enrolled in courses from across the various disciplines in our curriculum.   We did not have papers from courses in the schools of business and journalism, and we plan to make additional efforts to include them in the next phase of our assessments with these rubrics.

Some of the findings might reflect the fact that, although the sample was made up of students in senior level classes, not all of the students were in their fourth year of college.  Because many of our students enter UNC-Chapel Hill with a large number of AP credits, they may become seniors based on credit hours and meet the prerequisite for enrolling in senior-level courses without having as much college level academic experience as students who were in their fourth year and close to graduation.

The VSA advises institutions to follow assessment publisher guidelines for determining the appropriate number of students to test. In the absence of publisher guidelines, the VSA provides sample size guidelines for institutions based on a 95% confidence interval and 5% margin of error. So long as the tested sample demographics represent the student body, this means we can be 95% certain that the "true" population learning outcomes are with +/- 5% of the reported results. For more information on Sampling, please refer to the Research Methods Knowledge Base

The charts below show the distribution of senior student scores on the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics for Written Communication and Critical Thinking. Students are scored at one of four levels: Benchmark, Milestone 1, Milestone 2, or Capstone. The Benchmark level is the level at which most incoming freshmen who begin college immediately after high school would perform. The Capstone level is the level at which senior students about to graduate would perform. All students, regardless of class standing, are scored on the same rubric against the same criteria, so it is expected that the distribution for senior scores would be centered farther to the right (closer to the Capstone level).

Critical Thinking Detail

The charts below show the distribution of student scores on the subscales of the Written Communication and Critical Thinking rubrics. Each rubric consists of five dimensions that students are rated on individually.

Written Communication Detail

The charts below show the distribution of student scores on the subscales of the Written Communication and Critical Thinking rubrics. Each rubric consists of five dimensions that students are rated on individually.