Interpret and Use Assessment Results

Last Updated: 4 March 2024. Click here to view archived versions of this page.

On this page:

  1. Interpreting assessment results
  2. Ways to use assessment results
  3. Equity-minded uses of results
  4. Additional resources & sources consulted

Note: The information and resources contained here serve only as a primers to the exciting and diverse perspectives in the field today. This page will be continually updated to reflect shared understandings of equity-minded theory and practice in learning assessment.

Using your results for improvement is the goal of assessment. Programs use assessment results to inform decision making and to improve teaching and learning. Results can also highlight successes such as the following:

  • a better alignment of the curriculum with desired outcomes;
  • the creation of useful rubrics;
  • a set of explicit standards and corresponding samples of student work (“anchors”);
  • evidence that students are meeting or exceeding learning expectations.

Before considering how best to use assessment results, it is essential to interpret results accurately and equitable. Below are included tips and good practices for interpreting and using assessment results in ways that create positive change.

Additional resource: Introduction: Interpret and Use Results (video, 19 minutes)

1. Interpreting assessment results

Interpreting your program’s assessment results is an essential step that should be approached collaboratively and systematically. If you are an assessment leader or a contributor, you may find yourself leading or participating in the process of interpreting assessment results. Done correctly, this process will result in agreed upon actions or ways of using assessment results for positive, program-level change.

Whether you are facilitating or participating in the interpretation of assessment results, be sure to advocate for the following good practices that will encourage accurate, equitable, and productive interpretation and use of assessment results:

  • Collaboratively interpret results with input from diverse perspectives. This might include:
    • Students
    • Faculty/instructors
    • Alumni
    • Potential employers
    • Co-curricular faculty/staff
  • Elevate marginalized voices
    • This means not only voices from underrepresented populations, but also marginalized faculty groups such as adjuncts, instructors, and others who will have unique insight.
    • Use anonymous surveys to ensure anonymity and honest input
  • Provide materials to allow collaborators to contextualize the findings within the current curriculum and assessment processes. This might include:
    • Curriculum map
    • Rubrics
    • Syllabi for core/required courses
    • Capstone assignments
  • As a facilitator, empower collaborators to make informed decisions through providing options for evidence-based, effective practices. These might include:
    • Effective pedagogical practices from literature review
    • Successful practices from other programs
  • Organize structured conversations for faculty and collaborators to brainstorm improvement actions. The following questions may be helpful to get things started:
    • Does the assignment used to evaluate student learning explicitly align with the rubric?
    • Were classroom activities/pedagogy helpful in preparing students for the assessment task?
    • Are the course standards aligned with the program’s exit standards?
    • Were students given sufficient opportunities to learn?
    • Did we use pedagogical methods suited to the students and the outcome?
    • Were students motivated to do their best on the assessment task?
    • Was our sample representative?
    • Do different student groups perform at the same level? Taking an asset-based approach, what might explain any differences?

Consider Next Steps:

  • Once there is a list of actions, the following list of questions can help the program to prioritize next steps:
    • Which action(s) address what faculty care most about?
    • What is most feasible?
    • Which action(s) will have the greatest impact?
    • How can existing momentum be leveraged?
    • Which action(s) can leverage institutional support/resources/funding?
    • Which action(s) generate the most motivation and enthusiasm among faculty members?
      • Are there faculty/staff who are willing to take the lead on specific actions?
  • Once there is consensus on the action(s) to be taken, create an action plan that describes the actions the program will take, who will take those actions, and the timeline for implementing actions.
  • Monitor changes as they are implemented to determine whether they have the desired effect(s).

2. Ways to use assessment results

Act on the results in ways that will improve the assessment process, student learning, or both. Assessment results are important evidence on which to base requests for funding, to make curriculum changes, rethink faculty lines, and more. Disappointing (negative) assessment results can have a positive effect when they are used to improve the learning process. Below are common ways that University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa academic programs have used assessment results.

Use CategoryUse Methods
Celebration of success
Understanding and sustaining what worked is as important as making improvement actions.
Invest in efforts to sustain program components and personnel that contribute to success. If your program did something worked, continue to invest in and expand on that practice.

Celebrate and communicate the success to students, faculty, alumni, and funders to increase morale, support recruitment and retention, and solicit funding.
Course and curriculum changes
Improving content and delivery of the curriculum at both the course and the program level directly leads to the improvement of educational quality.
Improve assignment design in core courses. Coordinate faculty peer sharing of assignments and allow for peer feedback to improve assignments.

Improve classroom activities/materials.

Scaffold learning across courses. Present the curriculum map and the capstone assignment. Have faculty reflect on the component skills and assignments needed across the curriculum to support achievement on the capstone assignment.

Develop a new course. Skills like disciplinary writing and research mindsets take time and intention to develop. Programs have developed  new courses that focus on skill development.

Apply for General Education designation. Any course that targets General Education (Gen Ed)  learning outcomes (e.g., written communication, information literacy, oral communication, ethical reasoning) can consider applying for the Gen Ed focus designation. The application requirements ensure the course provides sufficient learning opportunities for the target learning outcome.
Program Policy ChangesIncrease course offerings either by increasing the number of sections of the course or the frequency of the course offerings, from every year to every semester, for example. Programs can also increase repeat limits on courses that focus on experiential learning, such as capstone courses and practicums.

Create a course sequence. Strongly recommending or mandating a course-taking sequence can help students come into upper-level classes prepared. This action limits course options and should only be implemented with an increase in course offerings.

Add prerequisite/corequisite to ensure students have the necessary foundational knowledge and skills before progressing into upper-level courses.
Change of out-of-course experiences
Consider offering additional support for students outside of traditional coursework to enhance student learning.
Implement co-curricular workshops

Develop supplementary online materials

Provide additional financial or career support
such as through scholarships, interview practice, resume workshops.

Revamp student handbooks
to increase transparency in learning goals, program pathways, and available resources.

Revise academic advising
processes to better guide students through the program and encourage intentional learning.
Resources and personnel change
Programs can often benefit from professional development opportunities and fresh perspectives.
Offer professional development opportunities

Intentionally rearrange teaching duties to align with faculty strengths and specialties

Hire new teaching assistants and/or faculty

Rewrite job descriptions for new faculty/instructor openings to ensure program needs are addressed

Facilitate increased collaboration between internal and external faculty within the program

Acquire/implement new technologies to enhance student learning
Refinement of assessment tools and processes
Imperfect assessment results are still useful. Your results can always be used toward refining the tools and processes your program uses in assessing student learning.
Revise program student learning outcomes (SLOs)

Revise your curriculum map

Develop or revise rubrics for evaluation of student learning

Revise or implement new data collection methods such as surveys, tracking sheet, interviews, focus groups

Use of results examples from UH Mānoa

Note: scroll to questions 14 and 15 in the linked assessment reports below for the relevant examples.

3. Equity-minded uses of results

Use CategoryUse Methods
Develop new or revise assessment processes to be more culturally responsive & equity-mindedIncrease transparency in assessment processes by making criteria, tools, and processes public and accessible to all stakeholders. This might include program SLOs, rubrics, curriculum map, etc.

Involve student voices in review, reflection, and development of assessment tools and processes. Might be through surveys, focus groups, or involvement in curriculum committees.

Engage multiple stakeholder perspectives including diverse faculty, staff, co-curricular staff, alumni, advisory boards, and/or community members to participate in assessment processes.

Disaggregate data in meaningful ways to help identify underserved student populations and address bias in the curriculum.

In data collection, incorporate multiple ways for students to demonstrate learning at the course and program levels so students can leverage their unique strengths.

Assessment tasks are culturally relevant and/or meaningful to students’ lives
Advance cultural responsiveness & equity in teaching practice, curriculum, and course assignmentsImplement any of the above use of results actions in ways designed to address the needs of specific student groups.

Adapt the curriculum in ways leveraging student strengths. Avoid deficit-thinking that centers around what students cannot do.

Provide professional development opportunities to faculty and instructors to encourage use of equity-minded and culturally responsive pedagogical frameworks such as Universal Design for Learning (UDL), the Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education framework (TILT), the Peralta Online Equity Training.

Write syllabi and assignment instructions using language that is meaningful and understandable to students.

Design assignments to be place-based and/or culturally-relevant so that course and capstone assignments incorporate elements relevant to students’ geographic, historical, and cultural contexts.
Cultivate Equity Mindsets in StudentsDesign Curricular & Co-Curricular Programming to expose students to diverse and multicultural viewpoints.

Examples of equity-minded use of results from UH Mānoa

Note: scroll to questions 14 and 15 in the linked assessment reports below for the relevant examples.

  • Develop new or revise assessment processes to be more equity-minded
    • Involve student voices in developing or revising assessment processes: Oceanography (MS)
  • Advance Equity & Cultural Responsiveness in Education and Learning Environment
    • Create additional courses to address gaps in the curriculum: Dance (BA)
  • Cultivating Equity Mindsets in Students

4. Additional resources & sources consulted

Contributors: Monica Stitt-Bergh, Ph.D., TJ Buckley, Yao Z. Hill Ph.D.