This glossary has been created to assist in providing continuity in communication about essential academic and support services roles and responsibilities that affect student learning, curriculum and instruction, assessment, program evaluation, and institutional effectiveness. Each definition has been drawn from national, regional, or state education resources; as well as experts within the fields of higher education, institutional assessment, and program evaluation. Definitions specific to CSN policies and procedures are indicated as such.

Academic Credit

Credit applicable toward a degree or certificate awarded by CSN, or accepted on transfer to CSN, acknowledging equivalency in a learning experience through substantiation (drawn from NWCCU glossary).

Academic Year

Instruction equivalent of two semesters, approximately 15 weeks each, inclusive of examination days (drawn from NWCCU glossary), within a twelve-month period coinciding with the NSHE designated fiscal year from July 1 to June 30 (NSHE Procedures and Guidelines).


The status of public recognition that a recognized accrediting agency grants to an institution or educational program that meets its qualifying requirements and accreditation criteria. The process involves initial and periodic self-evaluation followed by an evaluation by peers (NWCCU Glossary).

Aggregate Data

Data aggregation is any process in which information is gathered and expressed in a summary form, for purposes of statistical analysis to examine trends, make comparisons, or reveal information and insights that would not be observable when data elements are viewed individually (Glossary of Education Reform)


A collection of papers, projects, documents, etc., usually associated with a portfolio, which represent student knowledge, ability, and competence in achievement of identified learning outcomes. Artifacts make connections between student learning and their lives.   In turn, faculty are able to use these artifacts to assess students’ intellectual growth (AAC&U).


The entire process of evaluating institutional effectiveness... providing credible evidence of resources, implementation actions, and outcomes undertaken for the purpose of improving the effectiveness of instruction, programs, and services in higher education (Banta & Palomba, 2014).    

Assessment for Accountability

Assessment of some unit (could be a department, program or entire institution) to satisfy stakeholders external to the unit itself. Results are often compared across units. Always summative. Example: to retain state approval, the achievement of a 90 percent pass rate or better on teacher certification tests by graduates of a school of education (AAC&U, Leskes, 2002).

Assessment for Improvement

Assessment that feeds directly, and often immediately, back into revising the course, program or institution to improve student learning results. Can be formative or summative (AAC&U, Leskes, 2002).

Assessment of Individuals

Assessment of individuals uses the individual student, and his/her learning, as the level of analysis. Can be quantitative or qualitative, formative or summative, standards-based or value added, and used for improvement. Would need to be aggregated if used for accountability purposes. Examples: improvement in student knowledge of a subject during a single course; improved ability of a student to build cogent arguments over the course of an undergraduate career (AAC&U, Leskes, 2002).

Assessment of Institutions

Assessment of institutions uses the institution as the level of analysis. Can be quantitative or qualitative, formative or summative, standards-based or value added, and used for improvement or for accountability. Ideally institution-wide goals and objectives would serve as a basis for the assessment. Example: how well students across the institution can work in multi-cultural teams as sophomores and seniors (AAC&U, Leskes, 2002).

Assessment of Programs

Assessment of programs uses the department or program as the level of analysis. Can be quantitative or qualitative, formative or summative, standards-based or value added, and used for improvement or for accountability. Ideally program goals and objectives would serve as a basis for the assessment. (AAC&U, Leskes, 2002).  Program review is a comprehensive evaluation of an academic program that is designed to foster improvement and demonstrate accountability.  Because student learning is a fundamental goal of any academic program, student learning assessment should be a primary component of the program review process (Suskie, 2009). 

Assessment of Student Learning

The systematic collection, review, and use of information about courses and programs undertaken for the purpose of improving student learning and development (Palomba & Banta, 1999).

Authentic Assessment

Performance assessments that ask students to do real-life tasks such as analyzing case studies with real data, conducting real laboratory experiments, completing real working internships.  Performance assessments have two components: the assignment that tells students what is expected of them and a scoring guide or rubric to evaluate their observed behavior or completed work.  Authentic assessment merges learning and assessment (Suskie, 2009).


Specific performance standards or targets against which success is gauged in outcome achievement.  Benchmarks can be set to compare college performance data with local, regional, or national data (Suskie, 2009).

Bloom’s Taxonomy

The framework elaborated by Bloom and his collaborators in 1956 consisted of six major categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The categories after Knowledge were presented as “skills and abilities,” with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice. Each category of word descriptors lie along a continuum from simple to complex ability and concrete to abstract. The taxonomy was revised in 2001 by cognitive psychologists, curriculum theorists and instructional researchers, and testing and assessment specialists to change the category and word descriptors with action word cognitive processes (Vanderbilt University, Bloom's Taxonomy)

Breadth and Depth of Learning

  • Breadth of learning refers to the full span of knowledge of a subject.
  • Depth of learning refers to the extent to which specific topics are focused upon, amplified and explored.

Within any area of study, there will be both breadth and depth of learning, which increase as students advance their knowledge. A college degree represents a focused collection of topics that are interrelated and have breadth and depth within and across those disciplines (SUNY, 2017).


An award granted certifying that specific training or educational requirement have been achieved (CSN Definition).


The official bulletin or publication of a higher education institution stating admission and graduation requirements, majors, minors, current offerings, costs, faculty, and all other significant information necessary for an accurate understanding of the institution (NWCCU Glossary).

Capstone Experiences

Holistic activities that students are required or encouraged to complete as they approach the end of their program.  They include theses, dissertations, oral defenses, exhibitions, performances, presentations, and research projects.  Capstones help students synthesize their learning by tying together the various elements of their program and seeing the big picture.  Capstones thereby promote deep, lasting learning.  These experiences provide a wonderful venue for program assessment because they provide a holistic portrait of what students have learned throughout their program... [or institutional goals of] oral and written communication skills, critical thinking skills, information literacy skills, and research skills (Suskie, 2009).


An instructional subject offering by day, time frame, number of weeks, mode of delivery (traditional, hybrid, online), or campus location (CSN definition).

Classroom Assessment

An approach designed to help teachers find out what students are learning in the classroom and how well they are learning it. ( & Cross, 1993)

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

A collection of tools faculty can use to provide feedback on how well students are demonstrating learned ability.  CATs reinforce student learning in three ways: by focusing student attention on the most important elements of the learning concepts; by providing additional practice in valuable learning and thinking skills; and by training students to become more self-aware, self-assessing, independent learners. ( & Cross, 1993).


The communication requirement of related instruction coursework must allow the student to demonstrate change in the learners' attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors through oral expression, and apply expression of ideas in writing within many genres and styles, with many different writing technologies (CSN Definition).

Competencies or Proficiencies

Outcome statements of ability within certain vocational or professional education programs to describe expected categorical levels of skill rather than knowledge, values, or attitudes (Suskie, 2009)

Computation- Math

The computation requirement of related instruction coursework must allow the student to demonstrate achievement in a minimum of basic arithmetic operations including addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and apply basic operations to solving problems (CSN Definition).


A single instructional subject commonly described by title, number, credits, and expected learning outcomes in the college catalog or MyCSN (CSN definition).

Course Curriculum Map

A matrix that connects learning outcomes for a particular course to the activities within the course that allow for the achievement of the outcomes; it is an auditing tool that helps identify potential disconnects between course activities and the learning objectives established for the course ( & Cross, 1993).


Principle‐based statements embedded in assessment or evaluation measures used to determine achievement (drawn from NWCCU glossary)

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Higher cognitive thinking required to a) conduct research and use evidence-based analysis; b) gain in-depth knowledge in the major and analytic, problem-solving, and communication skills; c) apply their learning in real world skills. (AAC&U)

Curriculum Alignment

The task of building curricular coherence to develop an environment that promotes deep and meaningful learning (AAC&U). On a course-level, curriculum content, instructional objectives, learning outcomes and measures, are aligned or matched to ensure that students are provided appropriate learning opportunities in order to achieve the identified learning outcomes (CSUN).  On an institution-level, a methodology where achievement of all levels of outcomes can be measured to demonstrate institutional effectiveness and attainment of the institution mission and vision (NWCCU glossary).

Curriculum Map

A matrix that connects goals or objectives to any courses within a particular discipline that allow for achievement of the goals/objectives; it is an auditing tool that helps identify potential gaps in the curriculum (Angelo & Cross, 1993).


The award given to graduates based on educational level. The basic levels include associate degree and bachelor’s degree (AA, AB, AS, AAS, BA, BS, BAS), (CSN Definition).

  • AA - A two year lower division undergraduate program (approximately 60 semester credits) of college study or its equivalent in depth and quality of learning experience. Designed for transfer and completion of a Bachelor's degree at a four-year institution.
  • AB - A two year lower division undergraduate program (approximately 60 semester credits) of college study or its equivalent in depth and quality of learning experience. Designed for transfer and completion of a Bachelor's degree at a four-year institution.
  • Associate Applied Science (AAS) - A two year program for a specific occupation intended to respond to the needs of the workforce, that may be transferred to a NSHE institution offering a BAS degree.
  • AS - A four year lower division undergraduate program (approximately 60 semester credits) of college study or its equivalent in depth and quality of learning experience. Designed for transfer and completion of a Bachelor's degree at a four-year institution.
  • BAS - A four year undergraduate degree (approximately 120 semester credits) of college study or its equivalent in depth and quality of learning experience for a specific occupation intended to respond to the needs of the workforce.
  • BS - A four year undergraduate degree (approximately 120 semester credits) of college study or its equivalent in depth and quality of learning experience which may be designed for transfer to an institution offering graduate degrees.
  • Certificate of Achievement - a one year program within an occupational area that certifies that certain training or educational requirements have been achieved.
  • (CSN Degrees and Certificates awarded)

Degree Plan

An arranged schedule for a program of study that describes the semester-by-semester sequence recommend by faculty (CSN Definition).

Direct Assessment of Learning

Direct assessment of learning gathers evidence, based on student performance, which demonstrates the learning itself. Can be value added, related to standards, qualitative or quantitative, embedded or not, using local or external criteria. Examples: most classroom testing for grades is direct assessment (in this instance within the confines of a course), as is the evaluation of a research paper in terms of the discriminating use of sources. The latter example could assess learning accomplished within a single course or, if part of a senior requirement, could also assess cumulative learning (AAC&U, Leskes, 2002)


A distinct area of study, branch of instruction, or academic field within an academic program. For example: Food Service Refrigeration is a discipline of the Air Conditioning Technology program or Creative Writing is a discipline of the English program (CSN Definition).

Embedded Assessment

A means of gathering information about student learning that is built into and a natural part of the teaching-learning process. Often uses for assessment purposes classroom assignments that are evaluated to assign students a grade. Can assess individual student performance or aggregate the information to provide information about the course or program; can be formative or summative, quantitative or qualitative. Example: as part of a course, expecting each senior to complete a research paper that is graded for content and style, but is also assessed for advanced ability to locate and evaluate Web-based information (as part of a college-wide outcome to demonstrate information literacy), (AAC&U, Leskes, 2002)


A specific area or branch of study within a discipline. For example: a student majoring in the cybersecurity discipline of the Computer Information Technology program may choose to pursue an emphasis (i.e. option or concentration) in digital forensics (CSN Definition).

Focus Groups

Consists of participants who might contribute useful information related to student learning, either through surveys or interviews. Examples of possible focus groups include: 1) current students; 2) graduating students; 3) alumni; 4) current and perspective employers; 5) supervisors of students in field experiences. (Suskie, 2009)

Formative Assessment

The gathering of information about student learning-during the progression of a course or program and usually repeatedly-to improve the learning of those students. Example: reading the first lab reports of a class to assess whether some or all students in the group need a lesson on how to make them succinct and informative (AAC&U, Leskes, 2002)

Foundational Knowledge

Knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world through study in the sciences and mathematics, social sciences, humanities, histories, languages, and the arts focused by engagement with big questions, both contemporary and enduring (AAC&U Essential Outcomes).

General Education

An essential collegiate‐level component of transfer‐based, associate degree programs and baccalaureate degree programs designed to foster effective, independent, lifelong learning by introducing students to the content and methodology of the major domains of knowledge (drawn from NWCCU glossary).

General Education Requirements (NSHE)

Minimum general education requirements for transfer degrees (AA, AS, AB) 3-6 credits English Composition including English 102,  3 credits Mathematics, 6 credits Natural Science to include at least one laboratory experience, 9 credits of either the Social Sciences or Humanities/Fine Arts TOTAL 21-24 minimum credits.  Requirements also include essentials of the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Nevada, including the origin and history of the Constitutions and the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals pursuant to Nevada Revised Statutes 396.500 that may be included in the previous coursework (Board of Regents Handbook Title 4)

Human Relations

The human relations requirement of related instruction coursework must allow the student to demonstrate achievement in cultural sensitivity and awareness within the workplace environment; promote positive attitudes toward work and service to others; and refine positive communication and listening skills in human behavior and relationships (CSN Definition).

Indirect Assessment of Learning

Indirect assessment of learning gathers reflection about learning or secondary evidence of learning. Examples: a student survey about whether a course or program helped a student develop a greater sensitivity to issues of diversity; employer survey of employee's ability to perform and meet workforce needs (AAC&U, Leskes, 2002).

Integrative and Applied Learning

Synthesis and advanced accomplishment across general and specialized studies demonstrated through the application of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and complex problems (AAC&U Essential Learning Outcomes).

Intellectual and Practical Skills

Inquiry and analysis, critical and creative thinking, written and oral communication, quantitative literacy, information literacy, teamwork, and problem solving, practiced extensively, across the curriculum, in the context of progressively more challenging problems, projects, and standards for performance (AAC&U Essential Learning Outcomes).


The primary field of study within a degree characterizing the body of knowledge gained within a discipline (CSN Definition).

Mission Fulfillment

Accomplishment of institutional intentions and realization of institutional purpose (NWCCU glossary).

Objectives (Instructional or Course)

The instruction process in detailed aspects. Measurable statements of essential learning concepts (knowledge and skills) that are taught by the instructor and must be learned by the students to support student achievement of course outcomes.  Instructional or course objectives can be specific to a learning session or multiple sessions within a learning module (Suskie, 2009). 


Learning goals that refer to a destination rather than the path taken to get there-the end rather than the means, or process (Suskie, 2009

Performance Indicator

Quantitative measures of overall student performance or other aspects of college performance. Performance indicators usually clarify minimally acceptable scores or achievement break points to differential skill levels (Suskie, 2009)

Personal and Social Responsibility

Civic knowledge and engagement—local and global, intercultural knowledge and competence, ethical reasoning and action, foundations and skills for lifelong learning, anchored through active involvement with diverse communities and real world challenges (AAC&U Essential Learning Outcomes).


A portfolio is compelling evidence of what a student has learned. A systematic and organized collection of a student’s work that exhibits to others the direct evidence of a student’s efforts, achievements, and progress over a period of time. It should include representative work, providing a documentation of the learner’s performance and a basis for evaluation of the student’s progress. Portfolios may include a variety of demonstrations of learning and have been gathered in the form of a physical collection of materials, videos, CD-ROMs, reflective journals, etc. (Suskie, 2009).


A systematic, usually sequential, grouping of courses, forming a considerable part, or all, of the requirements for a degree or a credential. In this context, the General Education components of transfer baccalaureate degrees (B.S.), transfer associate degrees (A.A., A.S., A.B.), and the related instruction components of applied degrees are considered to be programs (drawn from NWCCU glossary).

Program Evaluation

A systematic methodology for collecting, analyzing, and using information to answer questions about program projects, policies and structure.  Primary inquiry focuses on effectiveness (goals and objectives), adequacy (roles and responsibilities), and efficiency (utilization of resources; specifically time, money, & supplies). Secondary inquiry focuses on quality, ethics, and alternatives for program improvement. Program evaluation consists of a team of internal and external stakeholders that work collaboratively to answer a predetermined evaluation plan (Mertens & Wilson, 2012; Murphy, 2014).

Program Review (Academic)

A review of existing academic programs conducted by the college at least every 4 years to ensure academic quality, and to determine if need, student demand, and available resources support their continuation. The review must include both quantitative and qualitative dimensions of program effectiveness, and peer review and address program quality, need/demand for the program, relation to the institutional mission, cost, relationship to other programs in the System, student outcomes, and quality and adequacy of resources such as library materials, equipment, space, and nonacademic services (NSHE Board of Regents Handbook). 

Quantitative and Scientific Reasoning

Apply appropriate mathematical and/or scientific concepts and theories in order to interpret data and solve problems based on verifiable evidence (AAC&U).

Related Instruction

A recognizable body of instruction of at least six semester credits, or equivalent in depth and quality of learning, in program-related areas of communication, computation, and human relations for applied, specialized associate degree, or certificate programs of 30 semester credits or more in length (drawn from NWCCU glossary).


Specific sets of criteria that clearly define for both student and teacher what a range of acceptable and unacceptable performance looks like. Criteria define descriptors of ability at each level of performance and assign values to each level. Levels referred to are proficiency levels that describe a continuum from excellent to unacceptable product (Suskie, 2009).

Skill Certificates

An industry-driven and defined certificate recognizing identified core competencies and issued by an academic department upon completion of a defined set of courses of a specific duration with at least six semester credits of related instruction courses (CSN Definition).


Sets a level of accomplishment all students are expected to meet or exceed. Standards do not necessarily imply high quality learning; sometimes the level is a lowest common denominator. Nor do they imply complete standardization in a program; a common minimum level could be achieved by multiple pathways and demonstrated in various ways. Examples: carrying on a conversation about daily activities in a foreign language using correct grammar and comprehensible pronunciation; achieving a certain score on a standardized test (AAC&U, Leskes, 2002).


Most commonly applied to testing to achieve equivalence in testing procedures and test scoring.  Standardization is most frequently seen in nationally administered examinations. Standardization of assessment involves following a consistent set of procedures in designing, administering, and scoring an assessment activity and measurement instrument. The purpose is to assure that all students are assessed and measured under the same conditions so that their performance scores equivalence in meaning and are not influenced by differing conditions (Cumming & Miller, 2017).

Student Learning Outcomes 

Student learning outcomes are statements that clearly indicate the expected knowledge, skills, attitudes, competencies, and habits of mind that students are expected to acquire at an institution of higher education.  They should be specific to various levels (institution, program, course), clearly expressed and easily understandable by multiple audiences, prominently posted or easily accessible, updated regularly, and subjected to feedback for quality and utility (NILOA).

Student Self-Reflection

Student ratings of their perceived knowledge, skills and attitudes, measured as indirect evidence of student learning.  Self-reflection helps students develop metacognitive skills (allows them to critically think about how they think), (Suskie, 2009).

Substantive Change

A Major Substantive Change has significant impact on the resources and capacity of the institution. A major change is of a magnitude to alter an institution’s mission, objectives, and supporting core themes; the scope or degree level of its offerings; its autonomy, sponsorship, or the locus of control; its offering of academic programs for credit through contractual relationships with external organizations; its offering of programs for credit outside the NWCCU region; or, its campus locations including a branch campus or the establishment of an additional location apart from the main campus at which the institution offers at least 50 percent of an educational program. A Minor Substantive Change has minimal impact on the resources and capacity of the institution. Most changes, such as adding programs that are allied with existing offerings, or dropping programs, and changes in method of instructional delivery, are not major and therefore are categorized as minor changes (CSN Definition:See CSN Substantive Change Policy).

Summative Assessment

The gathering of information at the conclusion of a course, program, or undergraduate career to improve learning or to meet accountability demands. When used for improvement, summative assessment impacts the next cohort of students taking the course or program. (AAC&U, Leskes, 2002)


The capacity to put together what one has learned in a new, original way (Suskie, 2009)

Validity and Reliability

Measures are reliable when they yield the same results consistently over time or across settings.  Assessment measures need to be founded on reliable measurement procedures, but they also need to be designed to operate under less-than-ideal measurement conditions.  Uses or interpretations of measures are established as valid, in turn, when they yield results that faithfully represent or describe the property or properties that the assessment is intended to measure within a specific context (Cumming & Miller, 2017).

Value Added (Pre/Post Test)

The increase in learning that occurs during a course, program, or undergraduate education. Value added can focus on the individual student (how much better a student can write at the end of a course from the beginning of a course) or on a cohort of students (whether a representative sample of senior papers demonstrate more sophisticated writing skills than a representative sample of freshmen papers.  The average scores of each sample are analyzed to determine value-added and reported as an aggregate experience for all seniors and freshmen), (AAC&U, Leskes, 2002)