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The signal processing community needs quantitative standardized tools to assess student learning in order to improve teaching methods and satisfy accreditation requirements. The Signals and Systems Concept Inventory (SSCI) is a 25-question multiple-choice exam designed to measure students' understanding of fundamental concepts taught in standard signals and systems curricula. When administered as a pre- and postcourse assessment, the SSCI measures the gain in conceptual understanding as a result of instruction. This paper summarizes the three-year development of this new assessment instrument and presents results obtained from testing with a pool of over 900 students from seven schools. Initial findings from the SSCI study show that students in traditional lecture courses master approximately 20% of the concepts they do not know prior to the start of the course. Other results highlight the most common student misconceptions and quantify the correlation between signals and systems and prerequisite courses.