Improving Student Learning in the Core

The University is continuously striving to improve student learning. As such, USD has an ongoing program of evaluating our students’ abilities to meet the learning outcomes of our core curriculum.

Why do we evaluate student learning?

There are several reasons why we evaluate student learning:

  • Live our Commitment to USD’s Mission of Academic Excellence and Ethical Conduct.
    The learning outcomes within each core area describes the skills, abilities, and/or habits of mind that students should possess after completing a given core requirement. To uphold the University’s mission of academic excellence and commitment to ethical conduct we want to know that our students are actually able to successfully demonstrate the learning outcomes, and if we find areas where they are not, to work towards making changes so that our students as a whole are able to do what we say they can do.

  • Initiate Conversations Among Faculty Regarding Student Learning.
    USD faculty are dedicated to excellence in teaching and welcome innovative and new approaches to pedagogy. Data collected on student learning helps faculty to see areas where they might focus new and improved pedagogies to enhance student success. The interdisciplinarity of the faculty teams that score the student work for these projects allows a platform for some deep conversations about learning to take place. The results of the projects are presented to the faculty-based Core Curriculum Committee, where further discussions take place. The final report is shared with all USD undergraduate faculty, thus providing an entry to conversations among the faculty at large. 
Begin quote “I think this will help me clarify how we are conveying expectations to students. I will use this experience as I construct my own rubrics and discuss them with my peers.” – Oral Communication Faculty Scorer
  • Provide Data for Evidence-Based Changes.
    The aim of this process is to better understand how our students are performing so that we can identify areas of strength and weakness, with the latter being addressed through faculty development, resources for students, enhanced pedagogy, and/or refinements to the curriculum in order to better serve our students.

This experience has given me a lot to think about. I continue to think about ways to require oral presentations in my classes and ways that I can incorporate actually teaching good presentation skills.” - Oral Communication Faculty Scorer

  • Compile Data for Accrediting Bodies.
    The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) is the Commission responsible for accrediting the University. USD is in the process of its Reaffirmation of Accreditation with WASC Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC), which will be completed in Fall 2021. In addition, several undergraduate programs are accredited by various organizations, and may use some of the core assessment data for their accreditation processes.


How often do we evaluate student work?

Each area of the core curriculum is assessed on a cycle.

 Tentative General Assessment Timetable by Core Area

Current and Completed Projects

Current and Completed Projects
Term Area Project
Fall 2017 Competencies Critical Thinking/Information Literacy (CTIL)
Spring 2018 Competencies Oral Communication (CORL)
Fall 2018 Competencies First-Year Writing (CFYW)
Spring 2019 Competencies The New Future for Critical Thinking/Information Literacy (CTIL)
Fall 2019 Integration First-Year Integration (CINL)
Spring 2020 Competencies Quantitative Reasoning (CQUR)


What is the process for evaluating student work? 

Student work is evaluated in aggregate in order to capture a representative data set of student abilities to meet each of the learning outcomes in that area of the Core. The process is initiated and coordinated by the Core Assessment Team, who reports the data to the Core Curriculum Committee and ultimately disseminates the final findings to the greater USD community. The actual scoring of student work, construction or revision of rubrics, and resulting suggestions for improving student success, is all faculty driven.

Begin quote “The norming session made me more aware of emphasizing to students audience awareness, use of evidence vs. organizational strategies, etc.” – First-Year Writing Faculty Scorer

A typical assessment process occurs as follows:

Process for Evaluating Student Work. Collection of Student Work, Call for Faculty scorers, Scorer Training, Calibration and Scoring, Analysis and Scorer Feedback, Report results to Core Curriculum Committee, Share results to Core Curriculum Committee, Share results with USD Community and Implement changes, if needed.

In designing a given assessment project, the aim of the Core Assessment Team is to:

  • Involve faculty in as much of the planning and decision-making as possible;
  • Base assessments on actual student work that is included in part of a normal course (i.e., not externally created standardized tests);
  • Balance maximizing faculty independence- with regard to assignment design and minimizing impact to faculty teaching the course- with collecting valid and reliable data;
  • Select student work that occurs sufficiently late in the semester after students have already received related feedback on earlier work;
  • Assemble the faculty scoring team from a diverse group of tenure-line and adjunct faculty across a range of disciplines;
  • Train and calibrate faculty scorers to the rubric, to help ensure the validity and reliability of our results.

First-Year Writing Faculty Scorers report:

I have already referred to the rubric and taken specific language from it when revising a rubric for a course I'm teaching this semester. I found this to be a very useful experience for me as a teacher and will definitely use what I've learned to improve assessment in my courses and department.”

This has helped me design assignments for my own FYW150 courses and writing assignments in Core Curriculum literature courses. Very valuable to be a part of this! I most enjoyed reading other people's prompts and supplementary materials, and learning others' perspectives on evaluation. So glad I got to be a part of this!”


Meet our Core Assessment Team