Assessment Approach

Teacher in front of a classroom

Assessment of student learning ensures that students are achieving educational goals. Facutly designed our curriculum around expected learning outcomes and competencies that students will be able to demonstrate upon graduation. Faculty assess student learning to make sure that students demonstrate those competencies as they progress through their courses.

The key questions we ask in assessment are:

  • Are students learning and able to apply the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to be competent practitioners upon graduation?
  • How can we improve teaching and learning to achieve the stated learning outcomes?

At Samuel Merritt University we developed a unique methodology for assessing educational effectiveness. Integral to our approach are unique curricular maps that show alignment between course, program, and institutional learning outcomes. Samuel Merritt University faculty defined three levels of learning outcomes:

  • Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILO): What every graduate of Samuel Merritt University will demonstrate
  • Degree Program Learning Outcomes (PLO): What every graduate of a particular degree Program will demonstrate
  • Course Learning Outcomes (CLO): What every graduate of a course will demonstrate

Our assessment strategy begins at the assignment level. Faculty in each academic degree program align their assignments with CLOs. Then they assess if students are demonstrating competency of the CLO. They gather samples of student work demonstrating competency. Faculty in each academic program also align their CLO with PLOs and their PLOs with ILOs.













We designed and developed the Curriculum Mapping Initiative (CMI) to facilitate meaningful analysis of our curricular alignment. CMI software displays curricular maps in ways that facilitate analysis of learning outcomes at the course, program and institutional levels and link outcomes to exemplar assignments, authentic evidence of student learning, rubrics and learning resources.

Assessing the Assignment 

At the course level faculty align assignments to CLOs. As students complete assignments faculty evaluate each student’s competency in completing the assignment in the form of feedback or a grade. Then faculty assess whether, overall, the students demonstrated full or partial competency of the CLO.  

Assessing the CLOs

Faculty member assesses student learning of each CLO by selecting samples of excellence in student learning demonstrating competency (full or partial) of the CLO. These exemplars are added to the program portfolio in CMI as authentic evidence of student learning. For example, a student reflection on a clinical experience, a presentation, or record of demonstration of skill may be uploaded to demonstrate competency (partial or full) of a particular CLO.

Since our CLOs are fairly broad, it may require several assignments to demonstrate competency. So, one CLO may be aligned with more than one assignment. Conversely, some completed assignments demonstrate competency of multiple CLOs.

Assessment of Program Learning Outcomes

Each CLO is aligned with one or more PLO.  Faculty assess the educational effectiveness in a variety of ways.

Gap Analysis:

Faculty analyze curricular strengths and weaknesses by determining which PLOs have sufficient coverage.  For example, it becomes easy to identify which PLOs have many CLOs aligned and which PLOs have none or few CLOs aligned.


Faculty also look at the quality of the evidence of student learning to gauge how well students are achieving our stated outcomes. For example, if faculty review the evidence for a CLO and decide that the evidence does not meet the stated criteria, it is an indication that students are not demonstrating the stated learning outcomes and either pedagogical or curricular changes are needed.

Closing the Loop:

Faculty meet annually to make a plan to improve either pedagogical or curricular gaps or redundancies.

Assessment of Institutional Learning Outcomes

Faculty align PLOs with ILOs in each academic program. Members of the Academic Council and administrators conduct a gap analysis and look at samples of evidence of student learning to assess how well the PLOs and CLOs are meeting the stated ILOs.

The Curriculum Mapping Initiative (CMI) tool facilitates the management and analysis of assessment of student learning by displaying vivid maps that show alignment of learning outcomes with links to evidence of student learning, as well as rubrics, and assignments.

The bar chart shows how many PLOs are aligned with each of the ILOs.

This chart shows that most of the PLOs align with Clinically Competent with Critical Thinking and Communication skills not far behind. For a health sciences institution this distribution makes sense. There are not many of PLOs aligned with Information Technology. This is an area that may require further analysis and a plan for improvement.

The CMI software also can display a unique visualization and sonification of the alignment of ILOs and PLOs.

Figure 2: Distribution of alignment of PLOs to ILOs. This map shows the distribution of PLOs that align with ILOs in a degree program.

Each ILO is represented in a color-coded row. Each PLO is represented by a column. Where the PLO aligns with the CLO the square is filled in with the color of the ILO. For example, in Figure 2, PLO 10 aligns with the ILO of Information Technology in this sample degree program.


Each of the color-coded ILO rows is assigned a musical note. When the user clicks on “Play Sonification” the alignment of PLOs with ILOs plays as a musical score.

The columns are played starting at the top left column. The score can be played note by note or as a score. 

After hearing their curricular alignment played as a musical score faculty members tend to find new insight and analysis on how to improve their curriculum.

Click to watch a screen capture and hear the sonification of the alignment of Program Learning Outcomes and Institutional Learning Outcomes.

Mosaic Maps

The Mosaic Map view allows us to dig deeper and to conduct both qualitative and quantitative analysis of curriculum as well as educational effectiveness.

Mosaic maps show the alignment of  ILOs, PLOs, CLOs as well as artifacts showing evidence of student learning, and teaching tools such as sample assignments, rubrics, and resources.

Valerie Landau
Director of Assessment
3012 Summit Street, First Floor, C Wing
Oakland, CA 94609
510-869-6511 ext. 5358

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