The Collegiate Learning Assessment

The Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) is a measure of student learning outcomes used to gauge the impact of college on undergraduate students. It is currently is use by hundreds of institutions nationwide. Developed by the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), the CLA was designed to measure skills in core competencies like critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and writing. It is also a tool for measuring the extent of the value-added by the institution throughout students’ academic careers.

While the CLA is conducted online and in a proctored setting, it is unlike most standardized tests that use multiple choice response formats. Instead, the CLA is given in a constructed response format that challenges the student to develop well-crafted responses to various prompts.

NIU has conducted CLA in accordance with our participation in the Voluntary System of Accountability, an accountability initiative by public 4-year institutions to provide clear, comparable information about the institution in a common web template called The College Portrait.

The focus of the CLA is more on the institution as a whole than on the individual student, although students will receive an interpreted report of their scores that shows their strengths and weaknesses among the core learning outcomes, and comparing their performance with that of NIU and the nation as a whole. General intelligence, as measured by ACT or SAT, is used as a control in the calculation of value-added. Aggregate scores on CLA can be compared in two ways: freshmen can be compared to seniors, and/or actual scores and expected scores can be compared for each cohort separately. Expected scores are computed at the institution level using data from all institutions participating in CLA that year. Hierarchical linear modeling is used as the method of analysis. The difference between the actual and expected scores for freshmen is compared to the difference between the actual and expected scores for seniors; the value-added score reflects a comparison of these two differences.

You can find answers to some of the most common questions regarding CLA participation on the CLA-FAQ page for Faculty/Staff and the CLA-FAQ page for Students. Some additional resources are listed below:

CLA frequently asked questions for instructors CLA frequently asked questions for students

CLA Resources

CAE has provided information about CLA; some of those documents are listed below. Additional information can be found by visiting

  • CLA Brochure - Introduction to CLA, skills measured, value-added methodology, and sample measures
  • Common Scoring Rubric - Framework for evaluating skill-level in learning outcomes measured by CLA
  • Scoring Criteria - More traditional rubric for scoring each of the three tasks on CLA
  • Sample Institutional Report - Sample report of aggregate scores received by the institution
  • Sample Student Report - Sample report received by individual students highlighting strengths/weaknesses, interpretation of results, and comparison to other students at NIU and nationwide
  • Technical FAQs - Answers to questions about CLA development, scoring, scaling, analysis, validity, reliability

Student Resources

Participating students received their CLA student score report electronically in the semester following the one in which they participated in CLA. The following resources are available to students on campus should they want to further explore their abilities in critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and writing, the core learning outcomes measured on CLA:

  • University Writing Center, Stevenson South, Tower B, Lower Level, 815-753-6636
    Call or stop by in person to make an appointment at the Writing Center. They can help you address specific areas of writing mechanics that you may wish to strengthen.
  • Academic Advising Center, Academic Advising Center Building, 815-753-2573
    Located between the parking deck and Founder’s Library, the Advising Center can help direct you to specific courses to develop skills in the core learning outcomes measured on CLA.
  • Counseling and Student Development Center, Campus Life Bldg 200, 815-753-1206
    In addition to traditional counseling services, the CSDC provides Coaching for Academic Success, a program that provides study skills in a variety of subject areas that students need to be academically successful.
  • Office of Assessment Services, Adams Hall B20, 815-753-8659
    The Office of Assessment Services (OAS) is involved in the assessment of learning outcomes at the University, program, and course-level, and has an online assessment manual with information about student learning outcomes. Students interested in assisting faculty and staff involved in the assessment of learning outcomes may be interested in the Student Advisory Council on Learning Outcomes (SACLO). For more information, visit the OAS website at www.niu/edu/assessment.