Learning Outcomes Assessment and Program Improvement at Queen’s University

Natalie Simper, Brian Frank, Jill Scott, Jake Kaupp

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportResearchpeer-review


This report describes a four-year longitudinal study that investigated a range of assessment methods for evaluating learning outcomes associated with critical thinking, problem solving, written communication and lifelong learning. The sample was drawn from the Faculties of Arts and Science, and Engineering and Applied Science. The measures included surveys, interviews, two standardized tests (the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus and the Critical Thinking Assessment Test) and program-wide rubrics from the Association of American Colleges and Universities used to score student work samples independently of course grading. Researchers worked with course instructors to align teaching, learning and assessment, and to investigate and evaluate the utility of the instruments used. The results of the study quantified longitudinal achievement of student outcomes on three instruments, with incremental growth in skills demonstrated across the studied undergraduate programs. The high-level outcomes were: -Students’ skills in critical thinking, problem solving and communication increased over the four years of their degree. The effects were detectable using the standardized tests (CLA+ d = .44, and CAT d = .65), but more evident using the Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) rubrics. The Critical Thinking first-year median was Benchmark 1 while the second- and third-year median was Milestone 2, rising to Milestone 3 in fourth year. -Queen’s students demonstrated a higher level of skill in critical thinking than comparable students at most peer institutions participating in the CLA+ or CAT. For example, the Queen’s fourth-year sample performed at the 87th percentile of CLA+ participating institutions. -Student motivation was a significant concern for standardized tests. Results from student focus groups suggested that for students to put effort into testing, instructors need to value the test, the content needs to be relevant, careful consideration should be made to scheduling and the results should be made available to students. -Motivation is not a concern when scoring academic work using program-wide rubrics, but alignment of course assignments to rubric dimensions is critical. -The relative cost of implementing the VALUE rubric marking was approximately C$20 less per student than implementing the CLA+ or CAT tests. - Qualitative and quantitative feedback facilitated through departmental reports and debriefs prompted improvements to courses. - Work needs to continue to increase the adoption of effective practices in assessment.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationToronto, ON
PublisherHigher Education Quality Council of Ontario
Number of pages55
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Learning Outcomes Assessment and Program Improvement at Queen’s University'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this