Student learning outcomes assessment is about establishing learning goals for students, collecting information about student performance, and using the results to make program, classroom, or institutional improvements. While learning outcomes assessment evaluates student learning, program assessment evaluates program goals.
Good assessment is systematic in that it is a planned and regular process. This brief IDEA Paper by Susan Hatfield is an excellent introduction to assessment.
You can also view examples of other ISU assessment plans on the Program Assessment page. The nature of the education process, however, also lends itself to discovery. A good plan should be open to discovering new ideas and emerging themes.
Good assessment should be meaningful in that it addresses questions that you care about. Program evaluation and assessment should be a collaborative, inclusive and open process.
Assessment is a form of action research and is different from empirical research. While the main goal of empirical research is to satisfy curiosity and contribute to the larger knowledge base of a discipline, assessment is oriented towards decision-making and program improvement. Like empirical research, assessment should be systematic and disciplined. Additionally, it is appropriate the use the results of empirical research in improvement, but the goals, processes, and nature of empirical research and action research are very different. See this document for more information and references.
Assessment focuses exclusively on student learning outcomes. Program review is more broad and operational in nature, focusing on not only assessment results, but also program budgets, staffing, and space, to name a few. At ISU, assessment leads and is an integral part of program review (through the PRAAP process), but assessment and program review are two different types of evaluation.