Academic Assessment

Palo Alto College is committed to quality assessment because it is essential to improving student learning. The College uses both direct and indirect evidence of student achievement to guide improvements in teaching and curricula. The Office of Academic Assessment supports the Palo Alto College community by coordinating university-wide assessments, supporting improvement initiatives, and fostering a culture of assessment.

2022-23 Assessment Calendar


Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILO) Assessment

This is the evaluation system for Palo Alto College's core curriculum, which is structured around guidelines set forth by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) and is comprised of nine component areas and six core objectives.

These core objectives are known as the Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILOs) at Palo Alto College because they focus and unite all College stakeholders around common goals for student learning. The ILOs comprise the skills and abilities that the College believes all students need in order to succeed and thrive in life, in their educational careers, and in the work place. The faculty embed lessons and assignments in their courses that allow students to practice and grow in these skills. Students also interact with and practice the skills and abilities through participation in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Non-academic units support student acquisition of the ILOs by intentionally aligning them to unit goals. 

The College has devised and refined processes for both directly and indirectly measuring students' proficiency in each of the ILOs through the scoring of student work using locally-developed rubrics and student surveys.

Institutional Learning Outcomes


General Education Assessment: Communication

Communication is the ability to convey ideas through writing, speaking and visual representations. It also requires the ability to respond meaningfully to communication from others. Examples could include:

  • Responding to a colleague's explanation in order to elicit further information
  • Presenting at a conference
  • Writing an email stating a business proposal


What is the learning outcome?

Palo Alto College students develop and express ideas through effective written, oral, and visual communication for various academic and professional contexts.

How is it taught?

All courses at the College are responsible for teaching the Communication core objective. Examples from classrooms:

  • MATH 1314 College Algebra: After interpreting a quadratic equation, students are required to write memos explaining its application with regard to revenue at a baseball game.
  • PHIL 1301 Introduction to Philosophy: Students watch a provocative YouTube video of performance art and write a paper discussing the social implications of aesthetics.

How is it measured? 

Communication Rubric (PDF)

Assessment Reports 

2020-21 Communication Assessment Report

Critical Thinking

General Education Assessment: Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to analyze and evaluate an issue in order to form a judgement. Examples could include:

  • Summarizing alternatives to a dispute
  • Organizing ideas for the plot of a story and the development of characters
  • Using clever questioning to guide new insights


What is the learning outcome?

Palo Alto College students exhibit habits of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion.

How is it taught? 

All courses at Palo Alto College are responsible for teaching the Critical Thinking core objective. Examples from classrooms:

  • BIOL 2402 Human Anatomy & Physiology II: Students complete a lab experiment in which they distinguish between normal and abnormal chest sounds and their causes.
  • SPCH 1318 Interpersonal Communication: Students select a "self-help" book and apply concepts learned in class to either agree or disagree with the book's premises.

How is it measured?

Critical Thinking (PDF)

Assessment Reports

2021-22 Critical Thinking Assessment Report

Empirical and Quantitative Skills

General Education Assessment: Communication

Empirical and quantitative reasoning is the ability to make conclusions about observable facts and numerical data. Examples could include:

  • Developing a family budget
  • Scrutinizing the results of a statistical test
  • Determining the best repayment option for a student loan


What is the learning outcome?

Palo Alto College students apply scientific and mathematical concepts to analyze and solve problems.

How is it taught?

Core curriculum courses in the areas of Mathematics, Life and Physical Sciences, and Social and Behavioral Sciences are responsible for teaching the Empirical & Quantitative Skills Core Objective. Examples from classrooms:

  • MATH 1324 Math for Business & Social Sciences: Students calculate the maximum profit for a product.
  • MATH 2412 Pre-Calculus: Students calculate the height of a UFO seen hovering in the nighttime sky.

How is it measured?

Empirical and Quantitative Skills (PDF)

Assessment Reports

Coming soon!

Personal Responsibility

General Education Assessment: Personal Responsibility

Personal responsibility is the idea that people choose their own actions based on a larger ethical framework, and therefore are accountable for those actions. Examples could include:

  • Fostering children
  • Helping a friend through a difficult situation
  • Producing quality work


What is the learning outcome? 

Palo Alto College students connect choices, actions, and consequences to ethical decision making.

How is it taught? 

Core curriculum courses in the areas of communication, language, philosophy, culture, American history, and government/political science are responsible for teaching the Personal Responsibility core objective. Examples from classrooms:

  • SPCH 1311 Intro to Speech Communication: Students perform a persuasive speech addressing an ethical decision they've had to make in their lives
  • ENGL 1301 Composition I: Students write an argumentative essay using evidence to support a position and including an analysis of an opposing viewpoint

How is it measured?

Personal Responsibility Rubric (PDF)

Assessment Reports

Coming soon!

Social Responsibility

General Education Assessment: Social Responsibility

Social responsibility is the responsibility of everyone to engage in thought and actions that benefit society. Examples could include:

  • Exercising one’s right to vote
  • Volunteering at a local charity
  • Using resources efficiently


What is the learning outcome? 

Palo Alto College students demonstrate intercultural competency, civic knowledge, and the ability to engage effectively in regional, national, and global communities.

How is it taught?

Core curriculum courses in the areas of Language, Philosophy & Culture, Creative Arts, American History, Government/Political Science, and Social and Behavioral Sciences are responsible for teaching the Social Responsibility core objective. Examples from classrooms:

  • DRAM 1310 Theatre Appreciation: Students review a Palo Alto College theatre production addressing how production choices heightened the themes and issues presented
  • HIST 1301 U.S. History I: Students examine the artwork of George Catlin and discuss the biases presented and the history that is illustrated

How is it measured?

Social Responsibility Rubric (PDF)

Assessment Reports 

Coming soon!


General Education Assessment: Teamwork

Teamwork is the ability to work with others in a meaningful and productive way. Examples could include:

  • Recognizing the skills you bring to the team
  • Showing respect to those with differing opinions
  • Developing a common vision and working toward it together


What is the learning outcome?

Palo Alto College students consider different points of view and work effectively with others to support a shared purpose or goal. An activity is a teamwork activity when faculty ask two or more students to work together to complete a common task.

How is it taught?

Core curriculum courses in the areas of communication, life and physical sciences, and creative arts are responsible for teaching the core objective of Teamwork. Examples from classrooms:

  • MUSI 1306 Music Appreciation: Students work as a team to compose an original music piece including cadences, pitch, dynamics, and rhythms
  • HUMA 1301 Introduction to Humanities: Students work in teams to present what freedom means from a unique perspective

How is it measured? 

Teamwork Rubric (PDF)

Teamwork Faculty Evaluation (PDF)

Teamwork Student Self and Peer Evaluation (PDF)

Assessment Reports

2021-22 Teamwork Assessment Report


Program Assessment

Palo Alto College's degree and certificate program learning outcomes are assessed each year. Faculty in the various programs identify the learning outcomes, assessment measures, and targets for student performance. The results prompt dialogue among program faculty and lead to improvements in teaching and curriculum, which are reported in the annual Program Assessment Report.

To learn more about the program assessment findings and resulting action plans, contact the program lead for each particular program of interest.

Program Assessment Resources

Program Assessment Calendar (PDF)
Program Assessment Report Template
Weigh Pig, Feed Pig, Weigh Pig (PPT) - Dr. Keston Fulcher, Keynote, January 2018
Faculty Workshop (PPT) - Dr. Keston Fulcher, January 2018
Staff Workshop (PPT) - Dr. Keston Fulcher, January 2018


Key Assignment Design

Key Assignment Design Workshops are resuming this semester! These workshops are a great opportunity to have cross-disciplinary conversations with your colleagues.

In each workshop, participants will bring an assignment/assessment that 2-3 faculty, one staff member, and one student will review and give feedback to the author of the assignment. Please contact your department chairs if interested.

“This is a very helpful workshop.  I think faculty should have more development opportunities to workshop their curriculum.  It is beneficial to have non-faculty engaged in the process.”
“The discussion was structured well and resources provided were informative…the constructive input from my colleagues and a student helped me to see where I needed to add clarity to my assignment.”
Key Assignment Design Resources

LEAP Texas
DQP Assignment Library 
Assignment Design Presentation by Bonnie Orcutt 
Assignment Design Presentation by NILOA
One Faculty Member’s Experience: Course & Assignment Design for Improving Student Learning 
Transparency in Learning and Teaching Project 
Designing Effective Classroom Assignments (PDF) 
To Imagine a Verb: The Language and Syntax of Learning Outcomes Statements (PDF)
NILOA Assignment Toolkit


Assessment Resources


Contact Information

Phone: 210-486-3725

Amanda Harrison
Director of the Teaching & Learning Center

Melissa Elston
Assessment Faculty Fellow