1) Why do we do assessment of student learning?
Continuous improvement of our programs is an important priority for educators who want to do everything possible to prepare our graduates to perform in society, in the workplace, or in graduate school. Assessment planning and reporting allow faculty to report the specific learning outcomes they desire for their graduates and to collect solid evidence of how well those outcomes have been achieved. Assessment is required to maintain institutional accreditation as well as specialized program accreditation.*
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Gallaudet's regional accrediting body, places heavy emphasis on assessment of student learning. Assessment is at the core of MSCHE's seven Standards and Student Learning Assessment is crucial to Standard V Educational Effectiveness Assessment. Additionally program accreditors (e.g. American Psychological Association, National Association for the Education of Young Children, Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs) require evidence of the assessment of student learning.
There are more than nine accredited programs at Gallaudet University. For more information about programs with accreditation requirements at Gallaudet, please visit Accreditation and Approval.
2) What is an Assessment Plan?
As soon as a new program has been approved, the program is expected to develop an assessment plan. Considering many aspects of the new program may not be in place yet, it is still important for program faculty to know the intended program outcomes at the time a program is created. It is equally important for faculty to identify where in the curriculum that students will be exposed to program content, have opportunities to reinforce initial learning on that content, and ultimately to demonstrate their knowledge of the content. A curriculum map may be necessary at this point. The Office of Academic Quality will review your draft plan and either approve it or return it for revision. When the recommended revisions have been made, please submit the plan for final review. OAQ will notify you when the plan has been approved and uploaded to the Blackboard under "Program Assessment Outcomes". After approval, you will be responsible to update your assessment plan if there are significant changes in the program SLOs, measures, or scoring criteria and notify OAQ. The university assessment coordinator is available to assist you with assessment planning and curriculum mapping.**
3) What is the Learning Assessment Update (LAU)?
All programs in Academic Affairs submit an annual Learning Assessment Update (LAU) in June. All units in Student Affairs submit their LAUs in August. LAUs were submitted via the online assessment management system of WEAVE. To submit an LAU now, contact Michael Catron (firstname.lastname@example.org) and he can make the form available to you. The LAUs should document the ongoing assessment processes that include the components of Student Learning Outcomes, measures, performance targets, scoring criteria, data summary, data analysis, and findings. Also reported on are the improvements in the use of assessment and in the program/unit through assessment since the previous LAUs.
4) Is Assessment the same as Academic Program Review?
Both are important activities, necessary for continued improvement, but the purposes and timelines are different. Assessment is an ongoing process that occurs during each academic year and focuses on student-specific outcomes for a single academic major program. An academic program review occurs every few years. It is used as a comprehensive evaluation of the overall effectiveness of an entire academic unit that may administer multiple degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Although an academic program review self-study will include information from the assessment activities of the unit's programs, it will also provide information about the unit's human and non-human resources, faculty qualifications, scholarship and service activities, and more.*
5) How does assessment benefit institutional effectiveness?
Student learning is the major component for determining institutional effectiveness. Though a review of institutional effectiveness will assess additional avenues of institutional activities, it is important for programs to assess their outcomes with the goals of the college and institution in mind. With this core principle established and integrated into the activities of the program, the best data will be available for assessing the mission statement of the university.*
6) Who must participate in assessment?
All academic programs - majors and certificates, undergraduate and graduate - and units in Student Affairs are expected to participate in assessing student learning.**
7) Our programs have external accreditation, and they already evaluate our assessment. Is it necessary for us to participate in the institutional assessment?
Yes. Although most programmatic accreditors now require evidence that programs are measuring student learning, some still do not. We are still accountable to our institutional accreditation body for the assessment of student learning. There are some specialized accreditors that require programs to engage in the assessment of student learning, but are not prescriptive about how that should occur. Such agencies rely on the programs to participate in the institutional assessment activities and to document the evidence of those activities.*
8) Faculty already evaluate students, and students already evaluate faculty. Isn't this more of the same thing?
No. The purpose of academic program assessment is not to evaluate individual students or instructors. The purpose is to determine the extent to which program graduates possess the intended knowledge and skills of the program when they graduate, and to use the information gathered to support improvements over time.*
9) Will we be penalized if we do not meet all our outcomes?
No. The assessment team does not keep a tally of the number of outcomes met - or not. We do not report these numbers to deans, the provosts, the accreditors, or to anyone else. We do, however, maintain logs of units that have current assessment documents on file, and the quality of those documents. We provide feedback to units on whether their assessment practices are likely to provide meaningful information about student learning that can be used to improve learning over time. This is so important that units who identify simplistic outcomes, weak measures, and unreasonably low performance criteria receive lower ratings than units who set reasonable expectations, acknowledge when outcomes have not been met, and identify realistic changes to address any issues they identify. As an institution, we are evaluated by accreditors not on the number of outcomes we meet, but on the quality of evidence that we actively engage in the honest assessment of student learning at our institution. "Closing the Loop," the process whereby program faculty use assessment information to drive decision-making that is aimed at improved student learning is the sole purpose of program assessment, and is the basis on which our assessment efforts are evaluated - internally and externally.*
Remember: We are not "graded" on the number of outcomes we meet, but on our efforts to collect meaningful information about student learning and then use that information to improve student learning.
10) How is assessment different than grading?
Though both activities are used to measure the degrees to which students have been learning concepts, grading is measure based upon individual students whereas assessment focuses on the performance and gains of an entire cohort of students. Additionally,
- Grades do not provide meaningful information on exactly what a student has learned. Assessments should address precisely the areas of strengths and weakness that students are having within the curriculum. A grade of a "B" does not accurately detail which elements of the curriculum were mastered and which were not.
- Grading and assessment criteria may differ As course grades can be based upon a number of factors such as points for attendance and penalties for late papers, assessment practices should not consider these elements in their scoring, focusing entirely on the outcomes and performance of the students.
- Grading standards may be inconsistent Assessment reviews should often be done through rubrics by committees to ensure consensus. Course and assignment grades may depend on the experiences and expectations of a singular reviewer.*
*Retrieved June 8, 2015 from Arizona State University's University Office of Evaluation and Educational Effectiveness at https://uoeee.asu.edu/assessment-faq.
**Adapted from https://uoeee.asu.edu/assessment-faq.
Also, please review the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's FAQs about Student Learning Outcomes Assessment: http://assessment.uncc.edu/student-learning-outcomes/assessment-student-learning-faqs