An Assessment Overview


The systematic collection, review, and use of information about educational programs undertaken for the purpose of improving student learning and development.

[Palomba, C.A., & Banta, T.W. (1999). Assessment essentials: Planning, implementing, and improving assessment in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.]

Applying this definition to the educational arena, assessment provides the opportunity to reflect on the goals and objectives of a program/project to determine its level of success. Through a systematic process of collecting and analyzing information, assessment can guide program/project improvement or inform decision-making.

FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT provides information by identifying aspects of the program/project that are successful and areas in need of improvement. The assessment generally focuses on the content and design of the program/project, with results useful to the staff.

SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT provides an overall perspective of the program/project. The assessment usually focuses on the value or worth of the program/project and is designed for accountability or continuation purposes.

Due to the diverse nature of Syracuse University’s programs and projects, no standard assessment plan will meet all their needs. It is necessary, therefore, to develop an assessment plan specific to the program/project. Reasons for conducting an assessment vary and may even change over time for a particular program/project. For example, the assessment focus for a program/project in its developmental and early implementation stages will differ from its needs after becoming relatively well established.

This ASSESSMENT site is targeted at educational programs and projects for Syracuse University. It explains the various stages of assessment, from planning and development to information collection, analysis, and reporting. A range of assessment methodologies and approaches are provided to assist in designing an appropriate assessment plan. It is important to note that assessment studies are basically a process of asking questions and then developing an approach to find useful answers.

The following table summarizes the steps involved in designing an assessment plan. Each of these steps is discussed in greater detail within this site.


Steps in the process Decision making
1. Specify, select, refine, or modify project goals and assessment objectives What is the general focus of the assessment?

  • What is to be assessed?
  • Why is it being assessed?
  • For whom is the assessment being conducted?
2. Establish standards/criteria (performance measures) where appropriate What benchmarks or measures will be used to assess the success of the project?
3. Plan an appropriate assessment design
  • What are the key questions?
  • What is feasible in terms of budget, time, available resources, and expertise?
4. Select and/or develop data gathering methods and instruments What data will be gathered?

  • From whom?
  • By whom?
  • How will the data be gathered?
5. Collect data
6. Process, summarize, and analyze data How will the data be analyzed and interpreted?
7. Contrast data with assessment standards/criteria
8. Report results How will the results be communicated?

  • To whom?
  • By when?

[Adapted from Payne, D. A. (1994). Designing Educational Project and Program Evaluations: A Practical Overview Based on Research and Experience. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers. (page 13).]