How well are our students progressing toward our program and course-level outcomes? Which students are progressing well? What do we know about why they are doing well? Which students aren't making good progress? What do we know about them? When we start with questions about learning and use multiple assessment methods over time, we start to see not just what was learned, but also how it was learned, and who did and did not learn it.
As you prepare your assessment plans, please keep simplicity in mind. For example, your program may have four or five outcomes that you want to track. To simplify your work, consider focusing on just one of those outcomes per year. You might then cycle through those outcomes, devoting a year or a semester or whatever works best for you, to collecting, interpreting, and disseminating information about what your assessment data reveal and how they point you toward improvement.
Assessment is the conscientious instructor's best guide to improvement. So long as an instructor cares about the quality of the learning in his or her classroom, assessment is high on the agenda!
Consider these wise words from Barbara E. Walvoord, author of Assessment Clear and Simple:
More wise words:
"Most institutions have routinized data collection, but they have little experience in reviewing and making sense of data. It is far easier to sign up for a survey offered by an outside entity or to have an associate dean interview exiting students than to orchestrate a series of complex conversations with different groups on campus about what the findings from these data mean and what actions might follow."
-- Blaich and Wise, From Gathering to Using Assessment Results: Lessons from the Wabash Study
"Assessment leaders should avoid doing presentations in which the data and conclusions are simply handed out to faculty. If faculty do not participate in making sense of and interpreting assessment evidence, they are much more likely to focus solely on finding fault with the conclusions than on considering ways that the evidence might be related to their teaching.
[T]alk about some patterns that [you] see in assessment data and then ask, "What do you think this means?" The goal in these conversations is not to accept just anything that people say in interpreting the data but to engage in a "Yes, that sounds reasonable but how is that consistent with what students say on these questions?" kind of conversation. In many ways, good discussion about assessment data resembles a good seminar discussion about a book. People cite the text, in this case the data, and then dig in, push back, consider their own experience, and try to find broad themes."
-- Banta and Blaich, "Closing the Assessment Loop"
|Direct evidence of learning||Indirect evidence of learning|
Senior theses, exhibits, or performances
Student publications, conference presentations
Student teaching evaluations
Internship supervisor reports
Program review data
Employer or alumni surveys
Graduate school placement rates
What you are trying to achieve should direct your assessment choices. Follow this link to a great resource on matching outcomes to appropriate assessment plans.
The quality of an assessment plan does not depend on its complexity or comprehensiveness. Quality is, rather, a matter of the plan's ability to provide the faculty who can act on it evidence regarding who is and is not learning.
Good assessment is valid and reliable but above all, good assessment is useful.