Assessment 101

  • At its most basic level, assessment is any attempt to gather information to improve the effectiveness of a course or program. It offers a way to demonstrate to stakeholders the extent to which a course or program achieves its desired outcomes.

    Main Goals of Assessment

    To improve – Data gathered from assessment should be used to determine methods for improving the program or unit.

    To inform – As a part of the process, information should be shared with key constituents to inform them about the contributions and impact of the program or unit.

    To prove – Assessment should demonstrate what the program or unit is accomplishing to students, faculty, staff, and outsiders.

    To support – The process of conducting assessment should provide support for campus decision making activities (e.g., strategic planning), as well as external accountability activities (e.g., Middle States Accreditation).

    Fostering a culture of assessment helps universities and faculty confront a number of interests, innovations, and imperatives that are combining to prompt institutional, curricular, and pedagogical change. 

    These elements include:

    • A transformation from a teaching paradigm to a learning paradigm and a simultaneous move toward a culture of inquiry and evidence.
    • Increased accountability from and by all stakeholders in higher education in regards to student learning.

    Benefits of Student Learning Assessment

    Instituting a well-designed, sustainable culture of assessment across the university brings the following benefits:

    1. Students will benefit from:
      • Knowing what is expected of them in coursework, in general education, and in the major.
      • Learning experiences that are driven by data and efforts for continuous improvement of teaching and learning.
    2. Individual faculty will benefit from:
      • More information about what and how students are learning.
      • Better informed and reflective students who understand the learning goals of each class.
    3. Departments will benefit from:
      • Qualitative and quantitative evidence that students are mastering content and developing expertise.
      • Maintaining internal control of their students' learning outcomes rather than having them imposed from an external source.
    4. The institution will benefit from:
      • Connections across the curriculum supporting student learning and effective teaching.
      • The ability to demonstrate educational effectiveness to all of its various constituencies.
      • Improved recruitment, retention, graduation rates, and job placement, as well as associated economic benefits.
      • Enhanced reputation for innovation in higher education.

    Consequences of Student Learning Assessment

    Failure to establish a culture of systematic and sustained assessment of student learning presents the following consequences:

    1. We disadvantage ourselves in terms of student recruitment and retention.
      • For multiple reasons, we are in a period of hyper-competitiveness regarding the recruitment and retention of students.
      • In addition to earning a degree, students are searching for earning power, employment, and a financial return on their tuition dollar.
    2. We disadvantage our students by failing to systematically assess whether or not they are learning what we say they are learning.
      • IUP must have data to support the claim that we provide a quality education to our students.
      • Data permits us to make more informed decisions about curriculum development.
    3. We risk disadvantaging faculty who will be less competitive in the research arena without full accounting of learning outcomes and assessment.
    4. We jeopardize re-accreditation and funding.
      • Student financial aid is dependent upon accreditation. Without accreditation, many students would lose access to funding and be unable to enroll, resulting in the loss of our programs.
    5. We risk having assessment imposed upon us.
      • If we do not conduct assessment ourselves, we risk having standardized testing replace the thoughtful and discipline-specific learning outcomes that faculty design.

    Basic Beliefs Regarding Assessment

    • Assessment processes should be simple, systematic, and sustainable.
    • Assessment should be useful and faculty-driven.
    • Assessment is a scholarly activity that can result in substantial benefits to faculty, programs, and students. 
    • Assessment can be conducted efficiently and effectively with ordinary people's available time, resources, and expertise. 
    • Building a culture of assessment means we do not have to do everything at once.