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George D. Kuh and Natasha A. Jankowski

Documenting what students know and are able to do and using that information effectively to improve student and institutional performance are fundamental to ensuring the quality of postsecondary education. This work, known as student learning outcomes assessment, is inherently challenging, in part because the data have historically served two purposes that are seemingly at odds: accountability and improvement. This chapter summarizes efforts in the US and in other countries to obtain actionable evidence of student learning and discusses some key lessons learned for how to make such efforts more consequential and visible. First, we describe the circumstances that are currently influencing quality assurance efforts with an emphasis on recent developments in the United States. Then we highlight major quality assurance advances over the past quarter century including the work conducted by our National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA). Next we discuss what policy makers, government entities and institutional leaders can do to assure that student learning outcomes assessment produces meaningful, quality, relevant data that can be used to enhance student and institutional performance while addressing accountability needs. We close with six overarching principles to make assessment work consequential.