The “Outcomes and Assessment” portfolio grew out of our conviction that nothing has as much potential to affect students' educational experience as a sustained and systematic assessment of what and how they learn. The funded projects in this area – which spanned close to 100 institutions in 30 states – explored and synthesized recent developments in cognitive science affecting student learning and its assessment, developed iterative models of intervention and assessment to demonstrate gains in student learning over time, and developed new instruments, tools, and rubrics to capture student growth in hard-to-measure areas like analytical reasoning, and advanced the discussion on the responsibilities of presidents in assessment and in the improvement of student learning as well as the role of the governing board in the assurance of academic quality.

In his book Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok suggested that foundations could render great service by supporting “exemplary efforts by colleges to install a systematic process for evaluating educational progress, identifying problems, and experimenting with potential improvements…foundations would contribute to the creation of a continuing process to improve the quality of undergraduate education” (p. 332). The “Outcomes and Assessment” portfolio responded to Bok’s call and was informed by a series of listenings, forums, and working groups. For instance, a listening in October 2009 focused on how to put existing data to work to achieve demonstrable improvements in learning outcomes subsequently led to RFPs on “Systemic Improvement” and “Improved Assessment Methods”. These RFPs addressed impediments to full use of student learning data on college and university campuses and encouraged identifying cost-effective and sustainable ways of increasing the educational benefits from such evidence. Similarly, a listening in September 2004 focused on the productive ways in which we could support the movement toward value-added assessment in liberal education later shaped an RFP that emphasized collaborative work in this area.
The Teagle and Spencer Foundations also co-sponsored a conference in October 2008 on the processes of systematic improvement that help bring student learning to the highest possible level. Over 120 faculty, staff, administrators, accreditors, leaders of national organizations, and foundation officers were present to reflect on how student learning could be advanced, to discuss the movement towards systematic improvement of educational results, and to find more concerted, proactive ways for the leadership of higher education to address these and related issues.

Essays that reflect on the major themes of the “Outcomes and Assessment” portfolio are available in the Library and Resources section.