Use of Results
In a meeting on April 13, 2004, department members discussed the results of the Fall 2003 assessment plan. Overall, the department expressed satisfaction with the results and concluded that most of the departments learning objectives are being met by our history and social science majors.
There was some concern about the relatively low scores received by students on the assessment exam, especially concerning their "breadth of knowledge." Faculty noted, however, that on the same question in their senior seminars, these students had been rated very highly. A general consensus developed that the difference likely reflected the complete lack of preparation that the students had had for the assessment exam. They had not been informed of the exam in advance and had not gathered material or facts to support their analyses. Department members were rather pleased that these same students scored considerably higher on the question which evaluated their analytic skills. That suggests to us that we as a department do not so much prepare students to reproduce on demand memorized facts and data, but to gather information, analyze, and present it. The department was also pleased with the relatively high scores the students gained in the area of written communication skills on both the assessment exams and senior seminar papers. Therefore, at this point, history faculty determined to make no curricular or methodological changes as a result of these assessment results.
A second area of apparent weakness concerned the historiographical question on the senior seminar papers. Although the scores this semester were higher than they had been in the spring of 2003, they were still lower than on any other question, with 21% (3 of 14 papers) listed as "fair" and 21% (3 of 14 papers) as "unable to assess or not applicable". In comparison to last year's scores however, where 86% of the papers had been evaluated as "fair", "poor" or "unable to assess", these results seemed encouraging. The department concluded that the improvement was in part due to the rewording of the question in the checklist this year and due to the increased attention to this issue by senior seminar instructors. It encouraged future instructors also to focus on this important aspect of history in order to see further improvement in this learning objective. The Department has also recently agreed on the use of a common style manual in all upper level classes. That manual has a section on historiography which hope may help us address this area of continuing weakness.
In no other area of the assessment plan did the results raise any serious concerns or questions. However, the more open ended question in the focus group did raise some interesting issues for departmental consideration.
- Several students in the focus group emphasized the value of the non-Western courses and wished that more might be required. On this basis, the department agreed to consider whether it might in the future wish to require students to take either 212 or 215, or whether it should include an upper division non-West requirement in the Social Science Teaching Field Emphasis major.
- Several students were also frustrated by the inadequate number of upper division history courses required by the Social Science Teaching Field Emphasis major. Unfortunately, the department cannot add hours to this already very heavy major. It may, however, wish to consider (once again) reducing the number of survey hours taken and replacing them with upper division courses.
- Finally, several students wished for the addition of a history methods class. Indeed, such a class is in the catalog. It has not been taught for some time, however, partly because again our Social Science Education majors already take so few upper division hours in history content that we are reluctant to reduce that number any further. We have, however, just recently addressed some of the concerns raised in this regard by agreeing on a common style manual that will be required in all upper division history courses and which should help clarify the disciplinary norms for writing style, historiography, and citations.
Ultimately, however, because our assessment data is still very limited (based only on two semesters and approximately only 34 students), we have decided to make no major changes to our methodology or curriculum at this time.
Assessment of the Assessment Plan
Ultimately, the department agreed that the revised and simplified assessment plan implemented in the fall 2003 worked much better than the first one. Even so, there are still a few wrinkles to be ironed out.
First of all, the Department decided in the spring 2003 to begin administering the assessment exam in a few survey classes as well as in the senior seminar, but still failed to do so until spring semester 2004. We believe that a comparative analysis of the exams of first year students in a General Studies course and History or Social Science majors in their Senior Seminar may give us a better picture of the extent to which we are achieving our learning objectives with our majors.
Second, once again it seems appropriate to tweak the assessment exam rubric a bit to make it a more useful tool. After the spring semester, we adjusted the check sheets for both the assessment exam and the senior seminar papers to ensure that they informed us about the outcomes of specific learning objectives. However, the two checklists ended up using different evaluative numbers which makes it difficult to compare the results on the two forms of assessment. For the future, then the department agreed to make the evaluation numbers on the assessment exam rubric consistent with those on the senior seminar checklist, so that both will use 6 gradations-5)superior, 4)very good, 3)good, 2)fair, 1)poor, 0)Unable to assess/N/A. This more uniform scale will make it possible for us to quantify areas of strengths and weakness.