Joining the Debate: Does Assessment Matter?

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I have read with interest an ongoing debate taking place in the Chronicle of Higher Education and on some assessment listservs to which I subscribe. The basic question is this: after two decades of colleges doing assessment work, is there evidence that such work is efficacious?  I really don’t mind the question; it is a wholly appropriate question to ask ourselves. Unfortunately, the writer of the Chronicle article that generated all the chatter tied assessment activities specifically to accreditation requirements.  He questions whether accrediting bodies should still stress assessment as one of the criterion for accreditation.  Honestly, I prefer we go back to the original and most fundamental question upon which good assessment is based: “How do we know our students are learning?” The posts and opinions I have read in response to the article suggest to me that the problems we face regarding assessment exist on several levels. While I haven’t posted my two-cents’ worth online, I will share my Continue reading

New Beginnings!


I love the beginning of a new school year.  Everything seems fresh and new.  New students, new classes, and, of course, new assessments! If you are a faculty member, the beginning of the academic year is a great time to consider if assessment strategies from last year accomplished your goals.  Did the rubric measure what you expected?  Did the pre/post test show the gains that your students achieved?  Did students meet the benchmarks you established?  Were the student results well over, or well under the mark? These are some pertinent questions to ponder as you review assessment strategies for the coming year: What student learning did you measure? Did the assessment instrument capture the learning as expected? If not, can the instrument be tweaked? Or Do you need to start over? How are you examining the assessment data? Are you looking beyond averages? Is the data evenly distributed? Are there large gaps in performance? How will you impact the curriculum Continue reading

Summertime Fun


For the past two weeks, I have had the great joy of offering assessment workshops here on campus for colleagues from around the region.  The workshop, Assessment by Design, is a one-day experience with curriculum designed to facilitate the development of an assessment plan at the class, course, or program level, independent of discipline.  Faculty from both 2-year and 4-year schools participated and I loved the robust discussions that took place around assessment issues at their institutions.  My favorite part of the workshops were the wonderful “ah-ha” moments that occurred when everything suddenly made sense to folks and assessment turned from merely a compliance framework to a key mechanism for improving student learning. All in all, it was a great way to kick off the summer. And do I ever love summer!  “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high.” (George Gershwin) I know I have mentioned before on this blog that I am Continue reading

Hello, My Name Is

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I just got back on campus after spending time at the Association for Institutional Researcher (AIR) Forum in Denver.  I had the opportunity to hear lots of great sessions from my colleagues and learn more about their institutions. That said, you would be inclined to think I would blog this week about some great sessions, but you would be wrong. When we checked in at the forum, we were given a preprinted name badge and a group of stickers to adhere to a blank space under our name. The point of the stickers was for us to “personalize” our name badges to better reflect the diversity of experience present at the conference.  I chose ones like “I <3 statistics” and “Learning Outcomes” and the ever popular “Accreditation.”  Some of my colleagues chose even more interesting stickers like “Data Diva.” I came really close to selecting that one but didn’t think I had quite earned the title of “Diva.” Not yet, Continue reading

Serving Two Masters


There is a well-known Bible verse in the Book of Matthew that says, “No one can serve two masters.”  I was thinking about that adage recently when discussing assessment with some colleagues.  We were discussing a department’s assessment plan for the coming academic year and I was repeatedly asked if the accrediting body “would be okay with it.” Assessment has the unfortunate role of trying to serve two masters.  The first and primary role of assessment is to measure student learning in the classroom/program/college, and to use this information to inform curricular changes with the goal of increasing student learning. The second master that has begun creeping into my conversations with faculty is the issue of accountability.  Will this satisfy our accrediting body?  Will the state board think this is okay?  Does this meet the requirements? It is hard to meet the needs of two masters that are so fundamentally different in expectations and requirements.  So how does academia address Continue reading

Assessment Stories

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“Story telling is about connecting to other people and helping people to see what you see.” Michael Margolis I ran across this quote recently as I was looking for some interesting quotes to put into a presentation I was working on.  It didn’t fit my presentation, but it did make me think about telling a story. This past January, the professional development week that precedes the semester at JCCC included a panel of faculty who told their stories of assessment.  The panelists were wonderfully candid in sharing insights about their experiences and I was thrilled to hear all the different stories of how assessment had evolved in their disciplines.  Unfortunately, not many people attended the session. I thought the stories the faculty told about their respective assessment journeys were powerful and compelling. So, living in a digital age, I asked the faculty from the panel to come to the studio and tell their stories again – to the camera. Under Continue reading

More Than the Sum of Its Parts

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One of my hobbies is quilting.  I took it up later in life, meaning somewhere past my 40th birthday, and I have found that I really enjoy it.  When quilting, you have to consider the overall design of your creation and how the selection of patterns, colors, and shapes are going to fit together.  The most important part is deciding how you will bring all of these elements and the resulting individual pieces of fabric together to create a whole that is beautiful, durable, and, of course, keeps you warm on a cold winter night. I have determined through my experience that assessment is a lot like quilting.  There are many elements that go into a good assessment plan.  You certainly need to consider your overall design, starting with what exactly you want to know about your students.  If you design your assessment plan well, then all of the pieces will indeed fit together to form a cohesive whole focused Continue reading