WHY IS ASSESSMENT A REVILED WORD?
You are already assessing—you do it every day in your classrooms. The syllabus you have now is not the exact same one you had when you first taught the course, because as you responded to student needs/problems/new technology, etc. things changed. In assessment terminology, you ‘closed the loop.’ So if we are already doing this, why does assessment have such a negative connotation? In part this is because it is often linked to accreditation—you don’t do it because you want to, but because you are being MADE to by an accrediting body. At its heart, assessment is about continuous improvement—helping our students do better because we are more conscious about the way we teach material, our expectations for students, and whether our assignments/projects/exams allow students to demonstrate their knowledge/skills. If we can view assessment as a tool for ongoing class/program improvement, we may no longer view it as a chore.
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
If we are going to stop talking about assessment and accreditation in the same sentence, then you should care because assessment improves student learning and can help you be a better teacher.
The four main purposes of program assessment are:
To improve – the assessment process should provide feedback to determine how the class/program can be improved.
To inform – the assessment process should inform faculty and other decision-makers of the contributions and impact of the class/program.
To prove – the assessment process should encapsulate and demonstrate to students, faculty, staff and outsiders what the program is accomplishing.
To support – the assessment process should provide support for campus decision-making activities such as program review and strategic planning, as well as external accountability activities such as accreditation.
THIS MEANS MORE WORK, RIGHT?
Assessment activities are more about defining, tightening, and examining what you already do than about making new work. For example, think of an assignment that you are already using, how do you grade it? Do you use a rubric or scoring sheet for each student? Are your scoring methods similar to others teaching the same course? How do you review your assignment grades and make adjustments for future semesters? These are all assessment activities designed to strengthen your work. Some people find the rubric designed for assessment makes grading easier and start to use a version of the rubric in other classes (given to students in the syllabus or with the assignment). You will either give your ‘scores’ to a designated person in your program, or enter it into Digital Measures. You will need, as a program, to evaluate what your findings mean and how you can improve what you are doing— ‘closing the loop.’ This may take some additional time—perhaps in departmental or committee meeting—but the discussion is how you can reap the rewards of your work in assessment.
A VISUAL TO HELP
AQIP (Academic Quality Improvement Process) uses this visual and these six steps to continuous improvement of student learning. These steps are: identify goals, identify student learning outcomes, specify approaches, specify measures, evaluate and share results and make changes.
Good Practices in Assessment from Ball State’s Assessment Handbook (http://cms.bsu.edu/About/AdministrativeOffices/Effectiveness/AssessmentResources/Workbook.aspx)
The following principles of good practice, adapted from the Astin et al. (1992), Northern Arizona University (2006), and the University of Delaware (n.d.) provide important guidance for assessment efforts:
♦ The assessment of student learning begins with educational values.
♦ Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over time.
♦ Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes.
♦ Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the experiences that lead to those outcomes.
♦ Assessment works best when it is ongoing, not episodic.
♦ Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved.
♦ Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about.
♦ Assessment is more likely to lead to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change.
♦ Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public.
♦ Educational programs, in order to be successful, require full engagement of faculty and staff members in the conversations about, and the design and practice of, student learning outcomes assessment.
♦ Faculty and staff members determine the desired learning outcomes for students in their department/program.
♦ Faculty and staff members devise and implement the assessment methodologies that are most appropriate for their stated outcomes.
♦ Faculty and staff members maximize existing approaches: Assessments at the degree-program level should trend toward seamlessness, taking advantage of existing student projects, exams, and performances (i.e., embedded assessments). We caution ambitious programs to keep assessments manageable and informative.
♦ Academic, student affairs, and other units as appropriate are best suited to determine how to use the assessment results for internal programmatic improvements.
♦ The assessment process is iterative within units, is manageable within resource bases, is objective, and is meaningful to both faculty and staff members and students.
♦ Assessment is not an exercise, but a means of gathering and using information that faculty and staff members have determined to be important and integral to future decision-making about programmatic quality and capacities.
Three criteria should be kept in mind in developing a successful, consistent plan:
- Make it meaningful
- Keep it simple
- Make is sustainable