Why is Assessment Important?

How can assessment of student learning benefit Shepherd University?

The university can derive many benefits from integrating a campus-wide assessment program.   Academic departments have the opportunity to “take a step back”—that is, reflect on what the departmental mission is and what a graduate from that program will know, value, and be able to do.  Students will find it very helpful to know the goals of the major and how each course in the program relates to those goals.  Faculty will be able to use the assessment results to determine if program goals are being met.  If particular goals are not being met, faculty will have specific evidence concerning what curricular changes need to be made to improve student attainment of program goals.

Academic support services, such as the Library, Student Affairs, Financial Aid, Facilities, Computer Services and Payroll also make a tremendous contribution to student learning on campus.  Whether the impact on student learning is direct or indirect, all programs can assess how they contribute to the learning community and what changes they might make to maximize that learning experience.  For example, teachers teach better and students learn better in a clean, comfortable environment with adequate desks and state-of-the-art instructional resources.   Students learn more about the real world when they understand the importance of paying bills online and keeping up with institutional deadlines.  Everything contributes to learning.

Why do we assess?

Faculties engage in departmental assessment because assessment data facilitate improvement of academic offerings and program planning.  Assessment discussions foster re-examination of values at both the departmental and institutional level; assessment also promotes interdisciplinary conversations about student learning throughout campus.  Because every department and program contributes to student learning, assessment also bridges academic and student affairs. Governing boards, as well as accrediting and governmental agencies, require assessment activities to make institutions accountable to funding agencies and the public-at-large.

We already assess our students in each class they take part in as part of the major.  Is this acceptable assessment?

Classroom, course-based assessment has always existed at Shepherd College and remains an important component of comprehensive academic assessment.  However, each student in an academic major must also be assessed at, or near, the completion of the major to determine if the knowledge and skills considered to be the most important for success in the major were acquired.  The goal for this assessment is not to evaluate the faculty or students but to determine if program goals were met.  Grades in courses do not suffice simply because other factors than learning may contribute to the final grade given.

What do you mean by program goals?

Each academic program has skills and knowledge that program faculty believe should be mastered by all students graduating from the program.  The first step to assessment in the major is for program faculty to identify and state these program goals and to make students in the major aware of them.

What are some examples of program goals?

Two examples come from the areas of music performance and teacher education.  In music performance, a major program goal may be to have students successfully perform a public recital.  In teacher education, an appropriate goal may be to have students apply in a student teaching situation what they learned in their academic content and methods courses.

What other forms of assessment may be used to assess an academic major?

Two types of assessment, direct and indirect, can be used to gain information about student learning.  When assessing the major, direct forms are most reliable and valid.  These methods assess the students’ knowledge and skills appropriate to the major.

Some direct forms of assessment are listed below:


Art exhibits

Oral examinations

Comprehensive exams

Portfolios

Computer projects 

Position papers

Field camps

Registry Examinations

(e.g., Geology) 

(e.g., Nursing)

Internships

Senior seminars/capstone courses

Lectures or speeches 

Student teaching

Library exercises

Theatre performances

Music recitals

Theses

Indirect methods assess the students’ perception of their learning process.  Such methods include exit interviews and surveys with current students or with program alumni.

What will be done with the assessment results?

Alexander Astin, a well-known leader in the assessment movement, indicated in his 1991 book Assessing for Excellence that "… the immediate purpose of assessment feedback is to generate action that will lead to improvements in the education program."

The results of assessment at large are housed in the Center for Teaching and Learning (Scarborough Library 152).  The results of assessment in the academic major at Shepherd are housed in the appropriate academic department.  If the results of assessment show that program goals are not being met, the appropriate faculty will use this feedback to make program revisions that will lead to better attainment of program goals.  As Astin also states, "Proper utilization of assessment data has one primary objective: to stimulate actions that will ultimately enhance the [students'] talent development process."

What administrative structure has been created to manage mandated assessment activity?

Shepherd administrators believe that the implementation of a successful assessment program is of great importance.  Many departments and units have appointed assessment facilitators who help to coordinate assessment at the unit or department level.  A campus-wide Assessment Task Force, comprised of representatives from administration, academic support units, and departments reviews the campus assessment plans each year and acts as a resource for program assessment.

Is assessment mandated?

Yes, our accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission expects us to continuously assess.  However, our mission is to build of "culture of commitment" rather than a "culture of compliance" or "cohersion." 

What resources will be made available for departmental assessment activities?

The Center for Teaching and Learning offers grants to individuals, departments, programs and units for assessment purposes.  Please see our link on mini-grants.  We are more than happy to help you along the way!

Why is assessment important for a department's or academic support unit's self-study?

Assessment results help the department or unit quantify the degree to which it is meeting the program's learning outcomes.  For example, often we have anecdotal information about our students' success in graduate school or the job market.  Assessment statistics measure that success and often help us identify specific areas where we might need to improve.

How can the university promote an atmosphere where assessment can flourish?

Critical to an assessment program that invites honest feedback is a willingness on the part of the members to assess not only what is predictable and "safe" but to explore areas in the program where assessment results may dictate revision or change. 

Thus, it is imperative for the university to promote an atmosphere where nobody feels that assessment results must be padded or predictable.  Assessment may at times mean risk-taking--and a university that promotes this approach will reap the benefits of programs that are continually improving. Together we can establish a "Culture of Commitment."

For More Information:
Dr. Laura Renninger
Dean of Teaching and Learning
152 Scarborough Library
304/876-5461
800/344/5231 ext. 5461
fax 304/876-5461
lrenning@shepherd.edu