Sustainability Literacy Assessment (3.0)

Credit Language

AC 5: Sustainability Literacy Assessment – Version 3.0


  • 5.1. Sustainability literacy assessment design and administration
  • 5.2. Percentage of students assessed for sustainability literacy

Questions & Answers

How has this credit changed between STARS Version 2 and Version 3?

The administration criteria have been distilled down into a single binary question. A criterion on academic staff involvement has been added, and a percentage range of students assessed is now required. A comprehensive list of differences can be found in the STARS 3.0 Summary of changes.

Are there pre-made sustainability literacy assessments that can be used for this credit?

Yes, see the guide on Sustainability Literacy/Culture Assessment Tools for a list of approved assessment tools.

What’s the difference between a literacy assessment and a cultural assessment?

Sustainability literacy assessment focuses on knowledge about sustainability challenges, as well as ways to create solutions to these challenges. These assessments may take a variety of forms including multiple choice tests and surveys, self-assessments, and competency/skills-based assessments. Literacy surveys with multiple-choice questions typically have right/wrong answers. 

In contrast, cultural assessments focus primarily on culture, behaviors/practices, beliefs/values, and/or awareness of campus sustainability initiatives. Culture assessments with multiple choice response options typically do not have right/wrong answers. Such assessments can qualify under EN 4: Sustainability Culture Assessment.

Can we earn points if we include sustainability literacy questions on another assessment?

Yes, the assessment can combine sustainability culture/behavior/engagement, or can be included with other assessments needed for STARS (e.g., transportation survey). Some institutions include sustainability literacy questions in broader surveys not specifically related to sustainability, such as a first year student survey. A single instrument that addresses sustainability literacy, culture, and/or engagement qualifies if a substantive portion (e.g., one-third) of the assessment focuses on literacy.

What evidence is required to claim that an assessment was designed and administered to evaluate the success of the institution’s sustainability education initiatives?

To claim points for indicator 5.1.C, the assessment tool and methodology must have been structured to measure performance at more than one point in time. This can be demonstrated by having already conducted a pre- and post-test, for example, or by having a plan in place to conduct the assessment at set intervals (e.g., annually or biannually). If claiming points on the basis of planned assessments, include sufficient detail in the narrative field provided to make clear the longitudinal or formative/summative nature of the assessment, e.g., the anticipated time frame for future assessments. In the absence of this detail, a single assessment will not meet the criteria.

What constitutes a representative sample under Indicator 5.2?

A representative sample is a subset of a statistical population that accurately reflects the members of the entire population. A representative sample should be an unbiased indication of what the entire population is like. For example, in a student population of 1000 students in which 25 percent of the students are enrolled in a business school, 50 percent are enrolled in humanities programs, and 25 percent are enrolled in science programs, a representative sample might include 200 students: 50 business students, 100 humanities students, and 50 science students. 

Resources, Templates & Tools

Suggestions for Institutions

  • Work with your Institutional Research Office (or similar) to ensure that sustainability assessments are administered to a representative sample of students, and that the percentage of students assessed is tracked appropriately.

Potential Data Quality Issues

  • Assessment must cover sustainability literacy rather than sustainability-related values, behaviors or beliefs. An institution may use a single instrument that addresses literacy AND culture/engagement if a substantive portion of the assessment (e.g., at least 10 questions or a third of the assessment) focuses on literacy. Literacy questions typically include right/wrong answers, whereas culture/behavior/engagement questions do not.
  • Indicator 5.2. If reporting that 75 to 100 percent of students are assessed for sustainability literacy, the descriptive information must explain how a representative sample was achieved.

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