Assessment Template for Student Learning Goals

The ASA Task Force on Assessment

Excerpted from:

Lowry, Janet Huber, Carla B. Howery, et al. Creating an Effective Assessment Plan for the Sociology Major. Washington, D.C.: American Sociological Association, 2005, 57-71.


Learning Goal   1

Learning Goal   2

Learning Goal   3

Learning Goal   4

Learning Goal   5

Learning Goal   6

Learning Goal   7

Learning Goal   8

Learning Goal   9

Learning Goal 10

Learning Goal 11

Learning Goal 12


The purpose of this template is to help departments know where to begin in assessment as well as help departments advance in assessment with guidance from the American Sociological Association. This document is a companion piece to the ASA Task Force Assessment Manual. Thus, is it a product of the work accomplished by the ASA Task Force on Assessment and an intentional effort to support the work of the ASA Task Force on the sociology Major, which revised the Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major (McKinney et al. 2004) booklet. Much is known about assessment and we hope this template is useful in providing organization, direction, and suggestions for actual practice. There is, however, no template that can simply “be adopted”; departments must make decisions appropriate to their distinctive situations as they consider the 12 outcomes. It is just not possible to send out "The ASA Assessment Instrument”, for unlike engineering or nursing, for example, such complete standardization of knowledge is not appropriate.3 As explained in the Assessment Manual, a department must make any program its own or assessment will almost certainly fail. At the same time, there is enough shared understanding of the essential components of our discipline to allow us to both define what matters and respect variations on the themes. Thus, this template suggests an ideal type that can help guide departments as they identify the strengths of their programs, consider gaps, prioritize efforts, and where appropriate, work toward changes.

Lastly, understand that this is a program level model. The required decision-making and the nature of programmatic success in teaching and learning mean that this guide should be used collaboratively. In each section, examples and suggestions are provided--not mandates for a single way of effective practice. What ultimately matters most is how departments make use of what they learn to benefit the students, the faculty and the program.

Learning Goal 1: Students can demonstrate understanding of the discipline of sociology and its role in contributing to our understanding of social reality.
  • Describe how sociology is similar or different from other social sciences and give examples of these differences.
  • Articulate the contribution of sociology to a liberal arts understanding of social reality.
  • Apply principles, concepts and the sociological imagination to at least one area of social reality.
Departmental Decisions Does this goal fit with the current major?
Which principles and concepts should students be able to identify?
With which social sciences should students be able to compare and contrast?
How are the liberal arts defined at your institution? Upon what can the department agree as sociology's contribution?
What are the sociological principles and key concepts upon which can you agree?
In what ways will you expect students to articulate the sociological imagination?
Location in the Program Identify courses in which these abilities are taught and practiced: intro, methods, statistics, lower division electives, upper division electives, theory, seminar List particular assignments; be as specific as possible
Evidence of Student Learning Well-crafted, standard examination questions (short answer and/or multiple-choice) can identify students’ comprehension of basic concepts. Essay questions for more complex tasks: "Compare and contrast sociology with psychology and economics."
Provide a short newspaper clipping of an event and ask students to compare and contrast how different disciplines would make sense of (analyze) the example; might also allow connection of sociology to the liberal arts. Authentic examples often help students practice application of their sociological understanding; Offer multiple opportunities both within a particular course and across the curriculum. What is already in place? Discuss the shared understandings across multiple sections and courses. Rotate the focus: what is assessed this year and what next year? Sample student work.
Criteria for Evaluation What standards of evaluation will be applied?
What levels of quality are necessary to distinguish for purposes of departmental programming? Is pass/no pass ever appropriate?
Compare findings on student comprehension of intro and address strengthening areas of weaker performance. For intro essays, faculty share examples of two excellent, two good, and two satisfactory essays; discuss patterns of strength and gaps; share ideas for addressing gaps. In other (typically required) courses, identify continued application of concepts.
Closing the Loop Examine the capacity of students to demonstrate these abilities at various points in the curriculum. Give the intro instrument again in senior year and compare results; compare an essay question or short paper assignment to sample of intro levels essay. Prioritize! What matters most?

Learning Goal 2: Students can demonstrate the role of theory in sociology.
  • Define theory and describe its role in building sociological knowledge.
  • Compare and contrast basic theoretical knowledge.
  • Demonstrate the historical/cultural context in which theories were developed.
  • Apply basic theories or theoretical approaches in at least one area of social reality.
Departmental Decisions What definition/s of theory will be adopted?
Which theories should majors to be able to compare and contrast?
What depth of historical/cultural context is appropriate in the program?
Which theories/approaches should students be able to apply and why?
Operationalization of Learning Goals Sociological theory: The systematic explanation of social phenomena; abstract explanations that predict events in the world; theory is probabilistic.
Approaches: Functionalism, Conflict Theory and Symbolic Interactionism (Post-modern/Critical/Feminist/Marxist)
Historical/cultural context: Major features of late 19th and early 20th century Western Europe and the United States; the Enlightenment—France, England and Germany
Location in the program To what extent is theory introduced in introductory sociology?
What is type and depth of theory coverage in all of your courses?
Which theories are covered in your theory course and why?
Is theory included in research methods and/or senior seminar?
Evidence of Student Learning Intro: essay question or short written assignment in which students to compare and contrast functionalism, conflict theory and symbolic interaction regarding a current issue.
Exam questions or papers asking for the identification of main features of theories identified in any of the other courses in your program.
Theory: Major papers or essay exams regarding the historical/cultural context of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber
Criteria for Evaluation Depth of theoretical analysis required: pass/no pass?
Features included for excellence: depth, specificity, accuracy, substance
Ability to identify limitations and or weaknesses of theories
Closing the Loop Save samples of student work.
Which theories are best understood and why?
Where, if appropriate, can theory be strengthened?

Learning Goal 3: Students can demonstrate understanding of the role of evidence and qualitative and quantitative methods.
  • Identify basic methodological approaches and describe the general role of methods in building sociological knowledge.
  • Compare and contrast the basic methodological approaches for gathering data.
  • Design a research study in an area of choice and explain why various decisions were made.
  • Critically assess a published research report and explain how the study could have been improved.
Departmental Decisions Which methodological approaches should students be able to understand and use?
How should students understand the conceptualization of quantitative and qualitative—as types of methods or styles of analysis?
Should students design a research project? If so, of what type?
What type of published research articles will be included for critical assessment?
Operationalization of Learning Goals Role of empirical evidence in the scientific method;
Role of evidence in the interpretive method
Methodologies: survey (questionnaire, interview), experiment, observation, document/content analysis, secondary analysis.
Design a primary research study in research methods course or in senior seminar.
Select articles from international, national and regional peer reviewed sociology journals, and related fields.
Location in the program Typical in research methods course; senior seminars that are research based, and upper division electives.
Is it addressed in any other courses?
Evidence of Student Learning Major primary empirical research papers in required courses; samples should be saved.
Examination questions that compare and contrast methods (intro, research methods course, or senior seminar are typical sources) and apply appropriate design to an example.
Required paper on journal article critique; some excellent sources can be found in Pryczak publishing documents.
Criteria for Evaluation Standards for evaluation can be taken from peer review or journal instructions. What is the level of quality expected and why? See resources in Assessment Manual.
Closing the Loop Assess quality and range of papers, assignments and exam performance through sampling of senior papers.
If program is small, no need to sample.
Determine what changes might be needed in the seminar and/or in courses that are preparatory.

Learning Goal 4: Students can:
  • use technical skills in retrieving information from the Internet.
  • use computers appropriately for data analysis.
  • write in appropriate social science style for accurately conveying data findings.
  • identify and apply the principles of ethical sociological practice.
Departmental Decisions How is information literacy defined at your institution?
What type of computer data analysis must students do? Define level of student expertise in presenting findings.
Will department adopt the ASA Code of Ethics?
Can department adopt the ASA Integrated Data Analysis (IDA) program within the major?
Operationalizing of Learning Goals The American Library Association defines information literacy as a set of abilities requiring individuals to "recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information." ALA also states that "information literacy is a survival skill in the Information Age." "Information literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning." The ability to locate, evaluate and use information effectively.
Students use SPSS for Windows for data entry, analysis, and presentation. Levels of expertise include: frequencies, cross-tabs, regression and correlation, non-parametric tests. The ASA Code of Ethics is on the ASA website:
Connect with campus or federal IRB guidelines; include campus processes and practices.
Location in the Program Research methods, senior seminars, or upper division courses requiring major research papers. IDA modules (see ASA website) can be included in all courses. Ethics should be covered in methods; is it addressed in intro? Other courses with human subjects research?
Examples of Methods for Collecting Student Learning Data Require ethics section in any paper with a methodology section.
Ask examination essay questions that pose an ethical problem and require analysis. Provide a case study where students analyze and make a decision using the ASA Code and campus IRB practices as a guide. Ask students to reflect on information literacy in their literature reviews. How complete were the databases? Collect samples of data analysis done with SPSS and samples of IDA modules. Test questions completing data tables.
Criteria for Evaluation Identify the minimum skills for SPSS and quantitative literacy.
Clarify level of skill sociology honors majors must demonstrate. List databases that must be used.
Closing the Loop Identify how much research actually happens in your program; is it sufficient for the overall mission?

Learning Goal 5: Students can demonstrate knowledge and comprehension of: culture, social change, socialization, stratification, social structure, institutions, and differentiation by race/ethnicity, gender, age, and class.
Students can define and explain the relevance of each concept.
Departmental Decisions Is this list of concepts adequate? Upon what can the department agree? What should be added?
Operationalization of Learning Goals Examine intro materials. What shared definitions can be adopted?
If a common intro text is used, begin with those definitions. If not, consider definitions that can be agreed upon. If faculty cannot generally agree on what social class is, we certainly can’t expect students to clearly know and apply the term.
Relevance refers to pertinence and the ability to apply that which can be brought to bear on a particular problem or question.
Location in the Program Introductory Sociology is typical.
List the courses where concepts are clearly and intentionally revisited; e.g. race and gender course, a stratification course, family, demography, aging, urban, etc.
Evidence of Student Learning Standard intro exams. (See other earlier outcomes.)
Essay exam questions in social institution based courses (e.g. family, religion, political, education, etc.)
Papers that require application of the concepts.
Sample and review.
Criteria for Evaluation Will the definition and application/analysis skills be different for seniors than for lower division students? If so, what level is expected and how will you know it when students have achieved this?
Closing the Loop Which concepts do students understood and apply most effectively?
Are courses adequately reinforcing the use of the concepts?
What changes should be made?

Learning Goal 6: Students can articulate an understanding of how culture and social structure operate.
  • Describe the inter-linkage of institutions and their effects on individuals.
  • Explain how social change factors affect social structures and individuals.
  • Describe how culture and social structure vary across time and place and with what effect.
  • Identify examples of specific social policy implications using reasoning about social structural effects.
Departmental Decisions What are the main ways students should understand the inter-linkage of institutions and the effects on individuals?
How is social change conceptualized?
Where are the multi-cultural and global dimensions to be included?
Identify specify aspects of culture and social structure and their effect.
How are policy implications examined across the program? What type of reasoning should students use?
Operationalization of Learning Goals Institutions: “A process or an association that is highly organized, systematized and stable” (Modern Dictionary of Sociology: 165) “The organized, usual or standard ways by which a society meets its basic needs” (James Henslin, 1999)
Social change: Alteration of societies and/or cultures over time.
Location in the Program Typically introduced in the basic intro course. Are there topical area courses in your program that meet these goals? e.g. family, sociology of religion, and social change course, social movements.
Is policy systematically or idiosyncratically addressed?
Evidence of Student Learning Term papers of appropriate design in “institution” based courses or social change course.
Service learning projects that require analysis of institutions, their effects on individuals and aspects of social change.
Essay exams that require students to demonstrate comprehension and analysis of policy article from newspaper or case study.
Criteria for Evaluation At what level must all students perform? Pass/no pass rates? Percentage at what level of quality and rationale for that level? Content rubrics can be developed or borrowed.
Closing the Loop Are our courses meeting these goals? Why or why not?
How focused on social change, institution and policy is the program?
Are there elective courses that should be required?
Might tracks or concentrations meet these outcomes differentially?

Learning Goal 7: Students can articulate the reciprocal relationship between individuals and society.
  • Explain how the self develops sociologically.
  • Explain how society and structural factors influence individual behavior and development of the self.
  • Explain how social interaction and the self influences society and social structure.
  • Compare and contrast the sociological approach to the self with psychology and economic approaches.
Departmental Decisions Where is there agreement on these goals?
Does it work to use psychology and economics?
What definitions of the self do those disciplines offer?
What explanations are students expected to demonstrate?
Operationalization of Learning Goals Self: “The unique human capacity of being able to see our selves ‘from the outside‘; the picture we gain of how others see us.” (Henslin: 1999) “An individual’s awareness of, and attitudes toward, his own psychic and biologic person.“ (Modern Dictionary of Sociology)
Social interaction: “two or more actors mutually influencing one another” (Modern Dictionary of Sociology)
Location in the Program To what extent is this topic covered in intro courses? Is it done so universally?
Is there a separate social-psychology course? Does it build upon intro or is there no pre-requisite?
Evidence of Student Learning Papers in social psychology class.
Examinations and written assignments on these topics.
Primary research done in social psychology course.
Criteria for Evaluation At what level must all students perform? Pass/no pass rates? Percentage at what level of quality?
What standards are embedded in existing courses? How do these translate across the program?
Closing the Loop Is there sufficient evidence of student understanding of the reciprocal relationship between the individual and society? If not, what changes might be made?

Learning Goal 8: Students can articulate the macro/micro distinction.
  • Compare and contrast theories at one level with theories at another.
  • Summarize research documenting connections between the macro and micro.
  • Develop a list of research issues that should be pursued to understand more fully the relationship between the two levels.
Departmental Decisions Are macro and micro theories included in the curriculum?
How much research students be asked to do? Where?
How does a list of research issues fit into the program?
In what areas? Should student’s skills be about equal between micro and macro?
Operationalization of Learning Goals Macro theories: study of total social systems, particularly societies, such a functionalism and conflict theory
Micro theories: study of segments or groups within social systems.
Examples of research that summarizes these connections. Identify both theoretical and empirical dimensions.
Location in the Program Typically, functionalism, conflict theory and symbolic interaction are introduced in the first course. Are other theories presented in other areas of the curriculum?
Social theory course may or may not require link to current research issues.
Stratification courses or advance social problems courses may address this dimension.
Evidence of Student Learning Exam essays or papers can document comparison and contrast of theories and of research.
A specific example or case study can be offered and analyzed with both levels.
Criteria for Evaluation What is the depth of articulation between the two that is expected by majors?
Closing the Loop Is the department satisfied with how macro and micro levels of explanation are balanced? Should strength be added in one area more so than the other? Are theory and research both adequately addressed? If not, what can change?

Learning Goal 9: Students can articulate at least two specialty areas within sociology in depth.
  • Summarize basic questions and issues in each area.
  • Compare and contrast basic theoretical orientations and middle range theories in each area.
  • Summarize current research in each area.
  • Develop specific policy implications of research and theory in each area.
Departmental Decisions Is the program broad enough so students can have depth in two areas?
Do requirements versus electives facilitate this goal or create a barrier?
What level of depth should students accomplish?
Operationalization of Learning Goals Specialty areas: race/gender, family, religion, crime/deviance, urban, demography, social movements/change, organizations Methods: qualitative or quantitative skills or theory?
Location in the Program At what levels of the curriculum are specialty areas offered? At all four levels?
Which required courses allow in depth research projects?
Evidence of Student Learning Types of research papers assigned; perhaps gathered in a student portfolio (see Manual).
Criteria for Evaluation Degree of depth and criteria will be dependent on decisions made. See Manual for examples.
Closing the Loop Are faculty satisfied with specialty areas available in the program?
Are students roughly equally good in both?
Should opportunities for depth in specialty areas be changed?
Can the size of the program support two areas?

Learning Goal 10: Students can articulate the internal diversity of the United States and its place in the international context.
  • Describe variations by race, class, gender and age.
  • Make appropriate generalizations across groups.
Departmental Decisions Are these dimensions of diversity sufficient? How do they fit with institutional mission and general education?
Should any areas be added? i.e. disabilities, sexuality, religion, ethnicity?
What are appropriate generalizations?
Where should students resist stereotypes and where are they encouraged?
Operationalization of Learning Goals Race: socially determined on the basis of physical characteristics
Ethnicity: socially determined on the basis of cultural characteristics
Class: typically, social stratification based on income, education, and occupational prestige; determined by the relationship to the means of production;
Gender: social characteristics associated by society with being male and female
Location in the Program To what extent are these concepts covered in intro sociology?
Where are these topics addressed in addition to a race and class, stratification or gender course?
Evidence of Student Learning Examinations
Analysis in papers and portfolios
Oral exam/exit interviews MExaminations Analysis in papers and portfolios Oral exam/exit interviews (See Manual and previous outcomes.)
(See Manual and previous outcomes.)
Criteria for Evaluation Must all students take a stance of cultural relativism?
How will views of diversity fit here?
If faculty intentionally teach values, do students recognize that?
Closing the Loop Is the student’s understanding of diversity what is intended? How internalized is it? Does that understanding cross over into other courses students take? How does this support institutional mission and general education learning goals?

Learning Goal 11: Students can demonstrate critical thinking.
  • Demonstrate skills in recall, analysis and application, and synthesis and evaluation.
  • Identify underlying assumptions in theoretical orientations or arguments.
  • Identify underlying assumptions in particular methodological approaches to an issue.
  • Show how patterns of thought and knowledge are directly influenced by political and economic social structures.
  • Present opposing viewpoints and alternative hypotheses.
  • Engage in teamwork where many different points of view are presented.
Departmental Decisions Should Bloom’s Taxonomy be adopted?
What other models of critical thinking are used?
Can/are those adopted?
Is critical thinking in every course? Does it change over the course of the program?
Is critical thinking viewed as “automatic” or something about which the department needs to be very intentional? Is critical thinking just expected or are students explicitly taught how to do it?
What are overall skills expected versus particular courses?
Is a model of critical thinking offered that students can recognize and articulate?
Operationalization of Learning Goals Bloom’s taxonomy.
Your campus general education models.
Location in the Program If it is not somewhere, why not?
If it is not everywhere, why not?
Evidence of Student Learning Course embedded assignments.
College wide senior assessments in which sociology majors can be sorted out.
Criteria for Evaluation All students pass 70% on critical thinking instruments.
Closing the Loop How does our critical thinking reinforce that of general education? Where is the value added by the sociology program?

Learning Goal 12: Students will develop values.
  • Articulate the utility of the sociological perspective as one of several perspectives on social reality
  • Explain the importance of reducing the negative effects of social inequality.
Departmental Decisions Is there agreement on these values?
Are they consistent with the mission?
Is the department’s mission consistent with the institution’s mission and general education goals?
Do others support these values?
Operationalization of Learning Goals Students can do a competent sociological analysis of any problem presented.
Students can bring their sociological understanding to bear in other non-sociology courses.
Location in the Program Cuts across the program as a whole; may or may not be emphasized in particular courses.
Evidence of Student Learning Senior seminar educational autobiographies.
Exit interviews, done individually or in groups Honors projects.
Criteria for Evaluation Depends on the level of conceptualization of the two goals; is utility critical?
Where is there agreement on importance of reducing negative effects of inequality: as a discipline or as a department?
Closing the Loop Such values should lead to thoughtful discussion among the faculty and with students; it may be an area where the capacity to ask the appropriate questions is as significant as the correct answers.

Last modified December 1, 2006
by Boris Teske, Prescott Memorial Library,
Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, LA 71272