Life Sciences Assessment: Moving to PLO assessment

Submitted by Rachel Smith on
What is the Purpose of the Assessment?

Using the Life Sciences Assessment (LSA) tool to measure student attainment of the Life Sciences division's PLOs.

Describe the necessity for this assessment

The Life Sciences Division has identified 3 programs that our courses support.  We now need to measure how well our students are attaining our stated PLO's for these pathways.

Describe how the practice will be implemented

LSA was rolled out to all sections (FT and adjunct taught) of all classes in the Allied Health pathway (BIO156, 201, 202, 205) and STEM pathway (BIO181, 182) over 3 semesters.  Individual LSA questions were aligned to the PLO's for each pathway and a pre/post methodology was used to compare student performance at the "beginning of pathway" vs "end of pathway" to determine if students were improving as they moved through the pathway.   

Interpret, compare, and describe the results

The initial CATS, submitted in 2020, looked at our first data set where the assessment was implemented by FT faculty only and overall performance was measured, rather than attainment of individual PLO's.

Initial analysis of the newer large data set shows increases in student learning across all pathways measured.  However we have identified some weaknesses in the tool.  We are closing the loop by improving the tool to more closely address specific PLOs.

After analyzing, and reflecting on the outcome, what are the next steps?

1.  Review the LSA tool and edit and/or replace some questions.  Replace with questions that are more directed at our stated PLO's.

2.  Disseminate the updated LSA 2.0 via Canvas to all sections of our courses (FT and Adjunct taught) and continue the process of data collection.

3.  Now we have a methodology established to collect large data sets from multiple sections we can roll it out to our third pathway, the non-majors courses.


In AY19/20 Jeff Miller created a Life Sciences Assessment tool that uses 24 questions to measure understanding of general biology concepts along with critical thinking, reading comprehension and data analysis skills in a biological context.  The tool was used in multiple BIO course sections primarily taught by FT faculty and a CATS by Shannon Manuelito (Aug. 2020) analyzed the results.  Subsequently we have refined our approach to using this tool and implemented it in both FT and Adjunct taught sections   We have identified three pathways that our BIO courses support (Allied Health, STEM, Non-Majors) and we have developed PLO's for these pathways.  The analysis presented here uses a pre/post methodology to look at overall performance on the assessment, and also maps particular questions to specific PLO's to measure PLO attainment. We see an increase in attainment across the board (all pathways, all PLO's), but we are able to identfiy areas where increase in minimal and therefore develop our instruction in those areas.  We have also identified questions in the tool that we can edit so it more effectively meets our needs. 

Completed Full Cycle
Course Number
Average: 5 (37 votes)


Catherine Cochran Thu, 03/24/2022 - 9:07am

Hi Rachel,

I am excited that you and your team are assessing your PLOs!  Please reach out to SAC if you need any support.  This is an excellent example of meaning conversations within your division:  refining your assessment tool to help support student learning.  

I look forward to reading more about your findings.  

Great work!


Becky Baranowski Tue, 03/29/2022 - 2:00pm

Rachel and Life Sciences Division - this is AWESOME! I just emailed my division a link to this. I really believe that if we can get more aligned that we could really help streamline things for our students. While we are covering the competenices, we are not emphasizing the same things. Chemistry, physics, and calculus instructors are getting students with different skill sets since we are not all in agreement with  what to emphasize. We really need to get more streamlined and on the same page.  Great job.....thank you.