Mississippi State's Principles of Good Assessment Practices

The American Association of Higher Education designed a set of principles for good assessment with the intent that universities will "find these principles helpful for examining current practice and for developing and discussing their own principles" and that the principles will "support campus assessment leaders in their work with administrators, policy makers, and legislators who often set the conditions that determine whether assessment will lead to real improvement" (Astin et al., 2012). The office of OIRE applies these principles regularly in our work with programs across campus.


April 13, 2018

1. The assessment of student learning begins with educational values. Mississippi State’s values are listed in its strategic plan:

  • Access and Opportunity
  • Excellence and Innovation
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Integrity and Accountability
  • Citizenship and Leadership
  • Respect

At MSU, programs consider what their ideal graduates should exemplify and then plan learning outcomes that ensure students can reach that ideal.

2. Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over time. MSU’s assessment practices have been in place for nearly two decades. The university sponsored institution-wide assessments, such as the Graduating Student Exit Surveys, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), the ETS Proficiency Profile Exam, as well as support for college-level, department-level, and individual program unit reporting. Assessment should use a variety of methods over a span of time that can show growth; OIRE works with programs to ensure that measurements span the breadth of the students’ experiences and time at MSU.

3. Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes.  Programs create goals that are clearly worded so faculty, department, and university outcomes align. How the outcomes are worded, including what verbs are used, can help emphasize and clarify what is being measured and improved.

4. Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the experiences that lead to those outcomes. At MSU, program outcomes are designed to align with the university’s strategic plan and student learning outcomes. Since programs know their students best, we encourage them to analyze students’ experiences to see how they impact learning.

5. Assessment works best when it is ongoing, not episodic. We work with programs year-round to make setting outcomes and collecting data as easy as possible. We stay in contact with programs to ensure that continuous improvement is possible. The university-wide assessment is available on OIRE’s web site, and the individual reports are kept in their own document repositories in our university assessment system (called TracDat), which is behind a password-protected site.

6. Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved. The office of OIRE reaches internal and external stakeholders through online and social media presences that highlight important assessment work taking place on campus. We collaborate with units across campus to schedule ETS testing in classes within every college. We work with student affairs and academic affairs to raise awareness about the NSSE and share the data so programs can make use of it.

7. Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about. At MSU we work with programs to make sure that they are measuring student learning in ways that faculty consider valuable. The Maroon & Write Quality Enhancement Plan grew out of a university-wide conversation about the area of student learning that most warranted special attention. Maroon & Write, a writing across the curriculum-style program, has studied how implementing more writing assignments in non-writing courses can have positive impacts on student writing over the course of the last four years.

8. Assessment is most likely to lead to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change. Through programs such as the Maroon & Write Quality Enhancement Plan, the Center for Teaching and Learning, and University Academic Advising Center, a culture of continuous improvement is reaching faculty and students across campus.

9.  Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public. Programs at MSU from Landscape Architecture to English to Wildlife, Fisheries, & Agriculture are using information from their assessment to make improvements that better serve students. The latest job placement rates for MSU show 51% of all students have full time employment and 21% enrolled in a program of continuing education.


Astin, A. W., Banta, T. W., Cross, K. P., El-Khawas, E., Ewell, P. T., Hutchings, P.,…Wright, B. D. (2012). Principles of good practice for assessing student learning. Retrieved from: http://www.learningoutcomesassessment.org/PrinciplesofAssessment.html#AAHE

Career Center (2017). Job placement rates. Retrieved from: https://www.career.msstate.edu/pdf/2017AR.pdf


For more information about assessment practices, please contact Kayla Pineda or Ed Dechert.