Student Learning Outcomes: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?

Relations with Local Senate Committee Chair
Accreditation and Assessment Committee Chair

In 2002, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) moved from ten standards to four standards with subsections. One of the major changes was a focus on student learning outcomes (SLOs). At that time, SLOs and the idea of SLO assessment were new to California community colleges; even though assessing student learning was not new to faculty, the systematic cycle of documenting SLO assessment was. With this focus on SLOs, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) began work to provide resources for faculty on why and how to begin SLO assessment, and it continues to do so.

According to the ASCCC Guiding Principles for SLO Assessment (2010), the ASCCC “views outcomes assessment as a productive activity that can improve teaching practices and thus enhance student learning.” Because teaching practice and student learning are curriculum issues and under the purview of faculty, the adoption and revision of policies related to SLO data collection and assessment require collegial consultation between the local governing board, or designee, and the local academic senate.

With the 2014 release of the next round of revised ACCJC standards, there were concerns and much debate from the field regarding how to meet Standard I.B.6, which requires institutions to collect, disaggregate, and analyze student learning outcomes assessments and achievement data for subpopulations of students.  The standard further requires that institutions implement strategies to address any identified gaps in student performance. Discussions across the California Community College system resulted in two ASCCC resolutions (S15 2.01 and S15 17.04), a Rostrum article,[1] and a number of presentations at the 2017 Accreditation Institute, the 2017 SLO Symposium, the Spring 2017 Plenary Session, and the 2017 Curriculum Institute. Still, questions regarding this standard continue to persist:

  • What processes at the course, department, and institutional levels should be developed and implemented when collecting and evaluating SLO data for the purpose of data disaggregation?
  • What student subpopulations should be defined?
  • What lessons can be learned, and what actions should be taken once data are disaggregated and analyzed?
  • What are the promising practices in collecting and disaggregating student learning outcomes assessment data?
  • How can disaggregation of student learning outcomes assessment data lead to program improvement?
  • How can assessment of student learning through a lens of inquiry lead to more meaningful assessments?

To address ASCCC resolution 2.01 S15 Disaggregation of Student Learning Outcomes Data,[2] the ASCCC Accreditation and Assessment Committee partnered with the Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges (RP Group) on a research proposal to the Academic Senate Foundation for California Community Colleges (ASFCCC). The ASFCCC and the ASCCC approved the project to begin Spring 2016. The research results were presented at ASCCC events during the spring 2017 term.

Consequently, the ACCJC has issued a document on Institutional and Team Guidance[3] related to Standard I.B.6 that clarifies that student learning and student achievement are not to have the same meaning nor be supported by the same evidence. Furthermore, the Commission considers this standard to be an “emerging” standard and additional clarification of the language is to be expected in early 2018.

In an effort to provide more guidance to faculty in regard to student learning outcome assessment, the ASCCC is forming a task force that will update the ASCCC SLO Terminology Glossary and will write a paper on SLOs as directed by the body through the ASCCC resolution, 9.01 S17 Update to the Existing SLO Terminology Glossary and Creation of a Paper on Student Learning Outcomes.[4]

The need for professional development and dialog around promising practices for assessing student learning will continue. Fortunately, the ASCCC is actively involved in providing resources faculty need, including two events in February 2018 related to SLO Assessment and Accreditation:

  • The Fifth Annual SLO Symposium, Friday, February 9, 2018;
  • The ASCCC Accreditation Institute, February 23-24, 2018 in Garden Grove, including a pre-session on February 22 with ACCJC to include trainings for new evaluators and new accreditation liaison officers. 

With the shift toward a student success framework that focuses on guided pathways, there is a renewed sense that student learning outcomes assessment will be a large part of the discussion and that it is likely to result in cross-discipline collaboration. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that faculty remain vigilant and informed so that they can contribute to the formation and revision of the policies and procedures that will be adopted by their local districts in regard to student learning and assessment of that learning.

ASCCC resolution, 17.01 S15 Collegial Consultation with Local Senates on Student Learning Outcomes Policies and Procedures[5] “asserts that the adoption and revision of local policies and procedures regarding student learning outcomes . . . are academic and professional matters.” In other words, it is the purview and responsibility of the local academic senate to recommend, through collegial consultation with the governing board, those policies and procedures that address SLO assessment processes and practices.