Assessment is a systematic inquiry process that informs decision-making about programs, services, and operations. Practical implementation of assessment can range from very informal observations to formal surveys and other information-gathering techniques. While methodology is important, what is more important is that you are capturing the kind of information you need to guide your decisions about your work.

Pam Shefman, Director of Assessment and Planning at the University of Houston, reminds us that assessment is a tool not a task. For most of us, this is already true: because we are naturally curious and strive for excellence, we seek information to help us understand whether we are achieving our goals. What is missing for some of us, though, is a systematic approach to collecting and using information to guide our decisions, including documenting those decisions. Below is a depiction of the cycle of assessment by Dr. Robert Aaron at The Ohio State University:

The purpose of assessment is to make improvements in programs, services, and operations and NOT to justify work or hold staff accountable. There may be times, however, when the results of assessment indicate that a program, service, or operation may no longer lead to the goals we have set. In that case, significant program change or elimination should result. The focus of assessment should always be “the reconsideration of policy and practice with the goal of improvement.” (Schuh, & Upcraft, 2000, p. 21).


  • Schuh, J.H., & Upcraft, M. L. (2000). Assessment politics. About Campus, 5(4), 2000.