Departments must determine which type of assessment measures will give them information which addresses their student learning goals (i.e., provides evidence that students are learning what is expected of them). Evidence obtained to measure student learning can be either direct or indirect. While both types of evidence have a place in an assessment program, best practices suggest (and Middle States requires) at least some collection of direct evidence. Direct measures of student learning assess specifically what a student has learned, as demonstrated by his or her performance on a task (e.g., papers, exams, performances). Indirect measures of student learning give a general indication that students have probably learned something, but results may not be directly aligned with departmental goals (e.g., admission to graduate school, performance on standardized exams, student self-ratings of learning). Indirect measures are also methods that allow students to giver feedback regarding their learning experiences (e.g., surveys, exit interviews, focus groups).
When deciding on a direct measure of student learning, many programs find that an effective and convenient assessment measure for majors is a culminating project or experience (a capstone or capstone-like project) that entails demonstration of mastery of the most important program goals. An alternative approach to the capstone measure is the use of multiple smaller assessment measures (shorter papers and/or exams), each of which may address a different goal. A combination of these two approaches may also be used. Regardless of the measure chosen, it must be detailed enough to clearly demonstrate alignment with learning goals. This most often requires the use of a detailed scoring guide called a rubric or exam blueprint. Most faculty already use scoring criteria, though these criteria are not always explicitly expressed. Furthermore, faculty within the same department will often find that they share (albeit implicitly) the same criteria for assessing student success on an assignment.