Assessment Policy Models, Types, and Considerations

Project Overview
State Self-Study Tools
State and Regional Policies
Assessment Policy Types and Models
Policy Development
Inventory of Instruments and Measurements
Data Collection and Analysis
Publications and Presentations


This section presents four types of assessment policies that exist in the 44 states that have polices and three generic models for structure and design of these policies. Also presented are some important considerations for policymakers when designing their state assessment policy.


Policy Types

While states adopt assessment policies based on purposes established by policymakers and the priorities they set for colleges and universities, we have concluded, based on case study analysis, that there are four types of policies that states adopt for higher education:

Quality Assurance

Institutional Improvement


Student Learning

The characteristics and some important considerations of the four types are described below. States have some common and distinctive purposes and objectives that are reflected in policy decisions; a common emphasis is upon generating data and information to serve as evidence that the purposes are being fulfilled.


Quality Assurance

For these states, typically emphasizes assessment practices that seek to improve quality or at least give the public some assurance that quality is a priority for state policymakers.

However, there is no single definition of quality.

Common assessment practice includes requiring colleges and universities to demonstrate that they are achieving their missions. Missouri colleges and universities are required to submit data on 24 statewide indicators of quality, with each institution’s evaluation based on its own baseline data.

Quality can also be assured by having institutions demonstrate their overall effectiveness, most often through a performance-based funding system. South Carolina has the most extensive system in the nation, with 37 indicators grouped into nine categories, with targets unique to each institution. Missouri has a simpler system, focusing on 10 indicators of quality important to legislators, such as graduation and retention rates. The legislature in Washington has established separate performance categories for two- and four-year institutions, but each assessment plan must satisfy the two broad state goals of institutional self-evaluation for improvement, and institutional accountability for quality. Maintaining standards of effectiveness and productivity has long been a focus in Florida, as the state has been trying for over a decade to link accountability to budgeting. State priorities established through legislative studies include broad categories of efficiency and productivity such as graduation, retention, and course completion rates.



Institutional Improvement

Institutional improvement refers to improving educational programs, institutional management, and teaching and learning.

The policies in New York and Washington are designed to make assessment a link between gathering more information about institutional performance and improving education. All New York institutions are now in the process of developing their effectiveness plans that will document how they will use assessment to demonstrate student learning and institutional improvement.

Colleges and universities in Washington each have their own set of broad goals for which they must submit data to document their achievement of state priorities, such as transfer and student success in basic skills for two-year schools, and quantitative, writing, and major assessment at four-year institutions.

Missouri and Florida also emphasize performance, productivity, and efficiency with indicators focusing on success and completion rates, number of transfers to four-year schools, and enrollment rates for students from underrepresented groups.




In this context each college and university is held responsible by an external authority for reporting achievement of particular standards of performance, such as the governor or the legislature.

Typically, the authority defines minimal levels of performance, or the institution and the authority agree upon targets/goals.

In South Carolina, institutions are evaluated against their own unique targets for indicators in nine categories, such as faculty quality, administrative efficiency, and alumni achievements.

Institutions can be evaluated for contributing to broader state goals, as is the case in Missouri with priorities like educational attainment, job placement, and achieving institutional mission, or in Florida with their priorities of access, diversity, and quality. Such policies also include budgetary considerations as a means of enforcement, either as incentives or as rewards and punishments.

Missouri and South Carolina use appropriations as rewards for meeting predetermined targets of performance, as the money is contingent upon performance and can be taken away if targets are not met. Appropriations serve as incentives in Florida and Washington, as colleges and universities and entire systems are encouraged to reach for goals that help the state achieve its overall goals for higher education. When budget decisions are made, institutional and overall system performance are evaluated as a whole for contributions toward the broad state goals, rather than having specific dollar amounts tied to one certain target on a particular indicator. Also, money is not taken away for failure to meet goals; it is simply not awarded as an addition to base funding.



Student Learning

In this policy schema colleges and universities are required to demonstrate student learning gains.

The institution needs to have students exhibit levels of performance on either measures of general skills and competencies or on tests of specific knowledge related to general education and/or major field curricula.

The policies in Florida and Missouri have prominent testing components, and require students to take tests after the completion of certain levels and programs or prior to entry to demonstrate readiness. (Specific tests are outlined in the design features section of this chapter.) Colleges and universities are not rewarded or punished based on student test scores, primarily due to uncertainty regarding test reliability, validity, and institutional resistance.

In New York and Washington, outcomes assessment is encouraged as part of institutional effectiveness plans, but the state focuses only on aggregated data from colleges and universities, rather than the performance of students on particular examinations.




On this page

Quality Assurance
Institutional Improvement
Student Learning

Related Resources

Policy Models

Important Considerarions

Policy Development and Implementation

Inventory of Higher Education Assessment Instruments

© 2003, National Center for Postsecondary Improvement, headquartered at the
Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research