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Assessment Concepts and Definitions


While the University of Portland recognizes that external accreditation groups have specific language to which many of our professional and undergraduate programs adhere, for the purposes of our assessment practices here on campus, we use the following definitions of key assessment terms.


Key Concepts



The objectives of the university, college, department, or program.  These are what the unit intends to have students learn.


Demonstrable evidence of student learning.  They are related to objectives in that collecting outcome data is central to assessing whether or not objectives are being fulfilled.  In some cases, outcomes can include multiple components for further measurable evidence of student achievement.

Metrics or Indicators

Tools with which to measure an outcome. These are used to gauge the extent to which a student has achieved an outcome.

Direct Assessment

Method of collecting data that requires students to display or demonstrate their knowledge or skills. These displays are then evaluated by a professional.

Indirect Assessment

Method of collecting data that uses a proxy to measure student learning, behavior, or attitudes rather than a concrete demonstration of it.

Summative Assessment

Data collection that occurs at the end of a program, class, or activity and measures reactions to and results of the activity with the goal of improving in the future.

Formative Assessment

Data collection that occurs as a program, class, or activity is ongoing and measures reactions to the activity in an effort to immediately enact changes.

Qualitative Assessment

Method that focuses on collecting narrative data and is useful for examining the depth and richness of an experience.

Quantitative Assessment

Method that focuses on collecting numerical data and is useful for making comparisons across groups.


Refers to the consistency of assessments in terms of the conditions under which tools are implemented and the ways in which they are applied.


Refers to the accuracy of assessments in terms of whether or not the tools used are meaningful in that they actually measure the stated outcomes.


How these assessment concepts are used at UP

The University of Portland utilizes a number of different assessment methods, both direct and indirect, qualitative and quantitative, and summative and formative, across its campus. Within programs, various outcomes are directly assessed by faculty members through the use of projects, papers, presentations, standardized test scores, and other avenues that demonstrate student achievement. 

Indirect methods of assessment include course evaluations, student surveys, and alumni surveys. These tools serve as proxies for measuring student learning since they rely on self-reflection about the learning process or a specific experience rather than demonstration or display of learning. In efforts to produce valid and reliable results, faculty use relevant methods and assignments to measure specific outcomes and take samples of student data to analyze as a group.