Design Step 2: Establish Standards and Targets

Lecture hall

How will you know that students have met your expectations?

Clarify standards and targets to ensure equity and promote consistency


  • Set standard for achievement for each program goal
  • Identify performance targets that will allow program faculty to feel comfortable with results

“Comparison of universities or departments serves curiosity but serves little the managerial or public good. The more valuable assessments are those that are formative, developmental, [and] aimed at ... repairing weakness and shaping new teaching, research, and public service” (Stake, Contreras, & Arbesú, 2012).


As odd as it seems, program-defined standards reflect faculty agreement about the lowest level of acceptable performance, which would "nonetheless adequately prepare students for success in what comes next in their lives" (Suskie, 2018, p. 298). In fact, Suskie recommends that programs adopt standards that "would not embarrass you” (p. 297). In no way should this be interpreted as setting low expectations for student learning. Rather, standard- setting requires faculty to carefully consider and articulate the "good enough" threshold and prepare students to meet or exceed it. 

In general, the process includes two steps:

  1. Identify the minimally acceptable level of performance that program faculty can live with (e.g., “good enough”) and
  2. Articulate its opposite as the standard.


Performance targets describe the percentage of student work that will meet the performance standard for a given assessment. Consider the following guidelines for articulating and communicating targets: 

  • Use percentages, not averages. 
  • Identify the essential outcomes--those for which every graduate of the program should demonstrate minimally adequate achievement.
  • Identify aspirational outcomes, and set targets accordingly.   

SAMPLE: Alignment of Program Standards and Targets to PLOs

Figure depicting alignment among program goals, standards, and targets