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University of Wisconsin-Madison College Portrait

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University of Wisconsin-Madison Learning Outcomes

In 2016, UW-Madison was recognized as a part of the inaugural class of Excellence in Assessment designess.  The Excellence in Assessment (EIA) program – the first national designation of its kind – spotlights institutions successfully integrating assessment practices across campus, providing evidence of student learning outcomes, and using assessment results to guide institutional decision-making and improve student performance. The program recognizes the institutions’ commitment to the comprehensive assessment of student learning outcomes as a means to drive internal improvement and advance student success.

At UW-Madison, we have adopted the AAC&U Essential Learning Outcomes (ELOs) as our over-arching learning goals.  The ELOs describe a core sets of skills, abilities and knowledge that align with our record of turning out extraordinary national and global leaders. These learning goals were developed by AAC&U through extensive national surveys and interviews done with employers, faculty, staff, and alumni, asking the basic question, "What qualities and skills do you want in college graduates?"  These outcomes include:

Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World

  • Through study in the sciences and mathematics, social sciences, humanities, histories, languages, and the arts

Focused by engagement with big questions, both contemporary and enduring

Intellectual and Practical Skills

  • Inquiry and analysis
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Written and oral communication
  • Quantitative literacy
  • Information, media, and technology literacy
  • Teamwork and problem solving

Practiced extensively across the curriculum in the context of progressively more challenging problems, projects, and standards for performance

Personal and Social Responsibility

  • Civic knowledge and engagement -- local and global
  • Intercultural knowledge and competence
  • Ethical reasoning and action
  • Foundations and skills for lifelong learning

Anchored through active involvement with diverse communities and real-world challenges

Integrative Learning

  • Synthesis and advanced accomplishment across general and specialized studies

Demonstrated through the application of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and complex problems

Learning Assessment Examples

University of Wisconsin-Madison administered the ACT CAAP in 2014.

University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted a Senior-only benchmarked administration of the ACT CAAP in 2014. The results are displayed below in the SLO Results tab.

For additional information on UW-Madison’s process for administering ACT CAAP, 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 ACT CAAP for your institutional assessment?

Experience with various kinds of assessment illustrated that ACT CAAP testing served best to meet the requirements of the College Portrait for UW-Madison.  We experimented with ACT CAAP in 2010 and with the AACU VALUE rubric assessment of written communication in 2012 and 2013.  The findings from the VALUE rubric project demonstrated that the rubric-based approaches are better deployed at the program level, or within a discipline, and did not serve well to understand student learning across all undergraduates.  ACT CAAP served better to meet the specific requirements of the College Portrait.

Which University of Wisconsin-Madison students are assessed? When?

UW-Madison staff (through a joint project of the Office of the Provost and the Office of Testing and Evaluation Services) administered the CAAP Critical Thinking Module and Writing Essay Module to a sample of seniors in February 2014 (210 students).  An email message inviting students to sign up for testing for both the written communication module and the critical thinking module was sent to UW-Madison undergraduates with senior standing in January 2014.  Students were invited to register and registration was closed when registration reached 300 students.  Participating students were invited to complete both testing modules:  209 seniors completed the Critical Thinking Module, and 207 seniors completed the Writing Essay Module.

Participation/Motivation Incentive:  Students were offered a modest cash incentive for participation.  The cash incentive was doubled for students who scored in the top half of the test group.  This incentive system was based on feedback in focus groups with students during the fielding of ACT CAAP in 2010.

How are assessment data collected?

Participants took the ACT CAAP tests on-site at the Office Testing and Evaluation Service facility.  Testing was offered twice each weekday during a two-week period in February 2014.  Tests were returned to ACT for scoring.

How are data reported within University of Wisconsin-Madison?

ACT reports provided summary and by-student detail data to UW-Madison.  The summary results were reviewed by the CAAP administration leadership team and circulated to the Provost’s Executive Group in preparation for posting to the College Portrait site.

How are assessment data at UW-Madison used to guide program improvements?

ACT CAAP was useful to illustrate learning at the campus-level.  Scores showed strong performance on writing and critical thinking compared to the national averages. 


UW-Madison administered the Critical Thinking Module and Writing Essay Module to 209 seniors in Spring 2014.

For the Writing Essay Module, 97% of UW-Madison seniors scored above the national average.  The range of possible scores was 1 (low) to 6 (high).  UW-Madison seniors averaged 4.1 (±0.5) significantly higher than  the national average of 3.3 (±0.6).

For the Critical Thinking Module, 98% of seniors scored above the national average.  The range of possible scores was 40 to 80.  UW-Madison seniors averaged 69.6 (±2.9), significantly higher than the national average of 59.4 (±5.5).

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

At UW-Madison, senior students who completed the ACT CAAP Critical Thinking test (n=209) scored higher than 98% of seniors at all other CLA-participating institutions in Spring 2014.

At UW-Madison, senior students who completed the ACT CAAP Written Communication test (n=207) scored higher than 97% of seniors at all other CLA-participating institutions in Spring 2014.

As UW-Madison did not participate in a value-added administration, scores are not adjusted to account for the incoming ability of UW-Madison students.

Writing Detail

The charts below show the distribution of student scores on the ACT CAAP Written Communication Test. The ACT CAAP Written Communication Test is scored on a rubric with scores ranging from 1 to 6 at intervals of .5 with 6 representing a higher or better score. Each student’s response is scored by two raters; the ratings distributions for each rater are shown below. The Overall Writing Score is an average of the two ratings

Critical Thinking Detail

The chart below shows the distribution of student scores on the ACT CAAP Critical Thinking Test. Students receive a scaled score between 1 and 80, with 80 representing a higher or better score