What is Assessment?

A formal definition of assessment was offered in the The American Association of Higher Education Bulletin in 1995 and is relevant today. In the article, "Reassessing (and defining) assessment", Dr. Tom Angelo wrote: 

Assessment is an ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student learning. It involves:

Today, the term assessment in higher education also encompasses non-academic programs and support services, as Trudy Banta and Catherine Palomba describe in their book, Assessment Essentials, 2/e:

Assessment is the process of providing credible evidence of

undertaken for the purpose of improving the effectiveness of

in higher education.

To understand assessment better, let's take a look at common assessment terminology.  


Common terms and phrases relating to the assessment process and what they mean:

  • Goal & Objective – the end toward which effort is directed. Goals are broader, while objectives are more specific. However, these terms are often synonymous, as is "outcome". 
  • Measurement – the act or process of measuring; a figure, extent, or amount obtained my measuring; collected evidence
  • Accountability - results of stated objective compared to the measurement or collected evidence after learning
  • Assessment - the act or result of making a judgment about something; determination of the value, nature, character, or quality; often synonymous with "evaluation".

How is Assessment different than Accountability? 

- Here is an Illustration from the Student Career Center:

  • Goal/Objective/Outcome: 80% of graduating seniors, who register with the Career Center, will develop effective resumes. 
  • Measurement/Evidence: 83% of the resumes evaluated are rated as effective.
  • Accountability: Met outcome criteria. 
  • Assessment: 17% of resumes are not effective - why? 

Accountability states whether the outcome criteria was met or not; Assessment asks "why?" and uses the findings for improvement in future iterations of the cycle.