IN THIS ISSUE:
Assessing Student Learning
Voluntary System of Accountability
NCA Focused Visit
Student Assessment Committee
Assessment at Other Institutions
Nine Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning
These principles were developed under the auspices of the AAHE Assessment Forum with support from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education with additional support for publication and dissemination from the Exxon Education Foundation. Copies may be made without restriction. The authors are Alexander W. Astin, Trudy W. Banta, K. Patricia Cross, Elaine El-Khawas, Peter T. Ewell, Pat Hutchings, Theodore J. Marchese, Kay M. McClenney, Marcia Mentkowski, Margaret A. Miller, E. Thomas Moran, and Barbara D. Wright.
- The assessment of student learning begins with educational values. Assessment is not an end in itself but a vehicle for educational improvement. Its effective practice, then, begins with and enacts a vision of the kinds of learning we most value for students and strive to help them achieve. Educational values should drive not only what we choose to assess but also how we do so. Where questions about educational mission and values are skipped over, assessment threatens to be an exercise in measuring what’s easy, rather than a process of improving what we really care about.
- Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over time. Learning is a complex process. It entails not only what students know but what they can do with what they know; it involves not only knowledge and abilities but values, attitudes, and habits of mind that affect both academic success and performance beyond the classroom. Assessment should reflect these understandings by employing a diverse array of methods, including those that call for actual performance, using them over time so as to reveal change, growth, and increasing degrees of integration. Such an approach aims for a more complete and accurate picture of learning, and therefore firmer bases for improving our students’ educational experience.
- Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes. Assessment is a goal-oriented process. It entails comparing educational performance with educational purposes and expectations--these derived from the institution’s mission, from faculty intentions in program and course design, and from knowledge of students’ own goals. Where program purposes lack specificity or agreement, assessment as a process pushes a campus toward clarity about where to aim and what standards to apply; assessment also prompts attention to where and how program goals will be taught and learned. Clear, shared, implementable goals are the cornerstone for assessment that is focused and useful.
- Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the experiences that lead to those outcomes. Information about outcomes is of high importance; where students “end up” matters greatly. But to improve outcomes, we need to know about student experience along the way--about the curricula, teaching, and kind of student effort that lead to particular outcomes. Assessment can help us understand which students learn best under what conditions; with such knowledge comes the capacity to improve the whole of their learning.
- Assessment works best when it is ongoing, not episodic. Assessment is a process whose power is cumulative. Though isolated, “one-shot” assessment can be better than none, improvement over time is best fostered when assessment entails a linked series of cohorts of students; it may mean collecting the same examples of student performance or using the same instrument semester after semester. The point is to monitor progress toward intended goals in a spirit of continuous improvement. Along the way, the assessment process itself should be evaluated and refined in light of emerging insights.
- Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved. Student learning is a campus-wide responsibility, and assessment is a way of enacting that responsibility. Thus, while assessment efforts may start small, the aim over time is to involve people from across the educational community. Faculty play an especially important role, but assessment’s questions can’t be fully addressed without participation by student-affairs educators, librarians, administrators, and students. Assessment may also involve individuals from beyond the campus (alumni/ae, trustees, employers) whose experience can enrich the sense of appropriate aims and standards for learning. Thus understood, assessment is not a task for small groups of experts but a collaborative activity; its aim is wider, better-informed attention to student learning by all parties with a stake in its improvement.
- Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about. Assessment recognizes the value of information in the process of improvement. But to be useful, information must be connected to issues or questions that people really care about. This implies assessment approaches that produce evidence that relevant parties will find credible, suggestive, and applicable to decisions that need to be made. It means thinking in advance about how the information will be used, and by whom. The point of assessment is not to gather data and return “results”; it is a process that starts with the questions of decision-makers, that involves them in the gathering and interpreting of data, and that informs and helps guide continuous improvement.
- Assessment is most likely to lead to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change. Assessment alone changes little. Its greatest contribution comes on campuses where the quality of teaching and learning is visibly valued and worked at. On such campuses, the push to improve educational performance is a visible and primary goal of leadership; improving the quality of undergraduate education is central to the institution’s planning, budgeting, and personnel decisions. On such campuses, information about learning outcomes is seen as an integral part of decision making, and avidly sought.
- Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public. There is a compelling public stake in education. As educators, we have a responsibility to the publics that support or depend on us to provide information about the ways in which our students meet goals and expectations. But that responsibility goes beyond the reporting of such information; our deeper obligation--to ourselves, our students, and society--is to improve. Those to whom educators are accountable have a corresponding obligation to support such attempts at improvement.
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Get a Head Start on Assessment Reporting!
As you may have heard, the next cycle of assessment reporting will be done online using WEAVEonline. Although reports are not due until October, some people may be anxious to get a head start. If you would like to set up an appointment to learn how to use WEAVEonline, feel free to contact Sarah von Schrader, the Coordinator of Assessment, at x8495.
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UNK and the Voluntary System of Accountability
UNK is participating in a new initiative organized by the Voluntary System of Accountability. Under this initiative, participating institutions complete information to create a College Portrait. According to the VSA website: “The College Portrait provides consistent, comparable and transparent information on the characteristics of institutions and students, cost of attendance, student engagement with the learning process, and core educational outcomes. The information is intended for students, families, policy-makers, campus faculty and staff, the general public, and other higher education stakeholders”.
The VSA website provides links to College Portraits for all participants allowing stakeholders to learn about various institutions and make comparisons using a common format, i.e. comparing apples to apples. If you visit UNK’s Homepage, you will notice the College Portrait icon in the lower middle section of the screen, this will lead to the UNK College Portrait. The VSA website lists all VSA participants and has links to the College Portraits of many of these institutions.
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NCA Focused Visit
On April 28-29, 2008 a team from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association (NCA) will be visiting UNK to evaluate our progress in assessment of student learning. In the 2004 NCA feedback report, the evaluation team indicated that the assessment process at UNK did not meet NCA requirements and should be revisited after four years to gauge progress toward creating a coherent and sustainable assessment process. In addition, the team will be evaluating UNK’s eCampus program and making recommendations concerning umbrella authorization for online programs.
The NCA team will be composed of three members: Dr. Neil Hattlestad (Dean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, University of Central Arkansas) Dr. Susan Rickey Hatfield (Assessment Coordinator, Winona State University), and Dr. Tom J. Seymour, (Professor MIS-Telecommunications Consultant, Minot State University). A full schedule for the visit is posted on the section of the assessment website devoted the NCA visit: http://www.unk.edu/academicaffairs/assessment/NCA/index.php?id=36396.
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Critical Thinking Content Analysis Report
In our last newsletter we presented results for UNK Senior and Freshmen on the CAAP Writing Essay and Critical Thinking tests. We now have additional subscores for the Critical Thinking test.
According to the CAAP report “The CAAP Critical Thinking Test is a 32-item test that measures students' skills in analyzing, evaluating, and extending arguments. An argument is defined as a sequence of statements that includes a claim that one of the statements, the conclusion, follows from the other statements. The test presents arguments using a variety of formats, including case studies, debates, dialogues, overlapping positions, statistical arguments, experimental results, and editorials. Arguments are embedded in issues that are likely to be encountered in a postsecondary curriculum”.
Valid scores were obtained for 367 UNK seniors and freshmen. The scores were compared to the normative group of students at four-year colleges who completed the CAAP. There were “negligible” or “moderate” differences favoring UNK students as compared to the normative group (meaning UNK students found the items easier) on Evaluation of Arguments and Extension of Arguments. However, on the Analysis of Arguments, UNK students scored “substantially” lower than students in the normative group. For more information on the Critical Thinking content analysis, view the full report on the assessment website.
Student Assessment Committee Update
The Student Assessment Committee developed a survey of student preferences related to instructional practices. The survey asks students about a wide range of instructional practices such as: group work, access to faculty outside of class, use of technology, and regular quizzes. The student respondents will be asked which instructional practice they prefer and how often each practice occurs. The Committee is currently gathering data using an Opinio. The Committee plans to analyze the data and have results available by the end of the spring semester.
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Assessment at Other Institutions
Ever wonder what other institutions are doing when it comes to assessment of student learning? It can be very interesting to look at other university websites. The following links take you to assessment websites in the UN system and beyond.
University of Nebraska at Lincoln: http://www.unl.edu/ous/faculty_resources/assessment.shtml
University of Nebraska at Omaha: http://www.unomaha.edu/assessment/
University of Northern Colorado: http://www.unco.edu/assessment/
Alverno College: http://depts.alverno.edu/saal/index.html
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April 25-27, 2008
2008 NC State Undergraduate Assessment Symposium. Cary, NC, Breaking Barriers: Building a Culture of Assessment. Conference tracks include Academic Disciplines, General Education, Institutional Effectiveness, Community Colleges, Academic Support Services, Student Development/Student Affairs, Experiential Education, and Campus Partnerships.
June 11-15, 2008.
Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education's (NASPA) 2008 International Assessment & Retention Conference Assessment Reconsidered: Improving Learning, Student Success, and Transparency. Scottsdale, AZ,
September 25-27, 2008
Innovative Partnerships for Student Learning Conference.
Fostering Excellence in College Teaching. The Innovative Partnerships for Student Learning Conference is designed to bring together faculty, administrators and students from all types of higher education institutions as well as business and community members to share innovative practices and research on partnerships to promote learning. These partnerships are many and varied and can include valued connections between the curriculum and co-curriculum or between on-campus and off-campus experiences. Partnerships may also form between two-year and four-year institutions both public and private.
October 16-18, 2008
Diversity, Learning, and Inclusive Excellence: Accelerating and Assessing Progress. Network for Academic Renewal Conference. Long Beach, California. [Link: http://www.aacu.org/meetings/diversityandlearning/index.cfm Conference will highlight curricular, co-curricular, and institutional models that enable higher education leaders to develop, implement, assess, and continually learn from the experience of fostering diverse learning environments—environments in which all students develop, in increasingly sophisticated ways, critical knowledge, skills, and capacities for work and citizenship.
October 23-25, 2008
38th International Society for Exploring Teaching and Learning Conference, Harrah's Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada. ISETL encourages college and university faculty and practitioners from all disciplines to develop, study, and apply learner-centered principles of teaching, learning, and assessment in innovative, yet effective and practical ways.
October 26-28, 2008
The 2008 Assessment Institute, Indianapolis, IN. Conference tracks include Civic Engagement, ePortfolios, Faculty Development, First-Year Experience, Student Development and Diversity, Accreditation, Assessment Methods, General Education, Community Colleges, and Major Fields.
November 5-8, 2008
American Evaluation Association Annual Conference: Evaluation Policy and Evaluation Practice http://www.eval.org/eval2008/cfp.htm, Denver CO.
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