Non-Academic and Support Staff FAQ
1. What is assessment and why is it necessary?
Assessment is a process by which you measure your department against a pre-defined set of goals or objectives. For non-academic departments, assessment is determining whether or not your department does what is expected of it and completes all of these tasks in an efficient and effective manner. Basically, assessment is a systematic method of finding ways for your department to become more streamlined. It is important to determine if your department does complete everything that is expected in an efficient and effective manner or are there procedures or processes no longer working for your department and needed change. Assessment is a collaborative effort that includes all staff members in your department, as well as any direct or indirect constituents that influence your department or are impacted by your department. Assessment planning enables faculty and staff to answer important questions posed by students, parents, employers, accrediting bodies, and legislators about university and department policies, procedures and other areas crucial to university operations. Assessment allows everyone involved to become a part of the whole system and to have an influence in policy and procedural methods adopted by every department on campus.
2. What are some misconceptions about assessment?
Assessment is not about collecting data, repeatedly sending surveys to everyone, or making your department conform to one particular business model that seems to work at some other school. Assessment is about evaluating the process, not the person. Assessment is not always quantifiable, nor is it measuring the effectiveness of a single person; assessment is NOT a performance evaluation of any single person; it is a performance evaluation of the department. For example, if a department had so many tasks expected of them and no way to compete them, the department assessment report should state what tasks could not be completed. By performing an assessment evaluation, it can allow for possible changes based on the results of the assessment reporting.
3. Who does assessment? I thought that this was something that only faculty had to worry about?
Everybody does assessment in some form or fashion. Assessment is not just for faculty. In higher education, everybody from the administration to the students perform assessment. Our goal is to ensure that assessment is a collaborative effort between faculty, staff, and administration. It should never be the case that an “assessment guru” exists in your department and he/she has the sole responsibility of creating and maintaining the department’s assessment plan and report. Assessment only works properly when as many people are involved as possible. Every department at ATU has room for improvement, and assessment can identify places that need improvement as well as possible ways to accomplish this improvement. Quite often you will hear the words “Student Learning” when assessment is being discussed; rest assured that you do affect student learning. It does not matter what department you work in; you DO affect student learning. However, there is big difference in how faculty conducts assessment and how non-academic departments conduct assessment.
4. How do I begin an assessment plan for our department?
The first thing is to determine your department’s responsibilities. This can most easily be accomplished by looking at job descriptions or duties of employees, as well as departmental responsibilities. If your department has a vision or mission statement, that should be the corner stone of your assessment. Once you have determined the overall responsibilities of your department, you will need to decide on a set of clear and concise goals or objectives. These objectives should be directly related to your department’s responsibilities and mission/vision statement if it exists. After you decide on your goals or objectives, you need to determine if these goals or objectives are being met. This involves measurement, but such measurements need not always be quantitative. It is impossible to say what you will learn from these measurements. If the department easily meets all of the goals, perhaps the goals are too low. Remember that it is OK if your department does not meet all of your goals every year. Assessment data is meant to be followed over time. If some goals are not met in one assessment period this does not necessarily mean that anything needs to change; you should examine trends over time. After a period of time, if goals are consistently not met, then action may need to be taken. Regardless, goals matter and meeting those goals imply more than simply going through the steps. Too often, employees are told that “measuring” and reporting “measurements” are what really matter. Being obsessed with the process of assessment is never a substitute for improving your department.
5. What about “Student Learning?” Do I have to relate everything I am assessing to how it impacts student learning?
NO. You do not have to relate everything you are assessing to student learning. This is the big difference between how faculty and staff do assessment. If what your department does directly affects student learning then you can mention this in your assessment plan; but in general, non-academic departments do not need to mention student learning.
6. What role does my administrator play in assessment?
Since the phrase “Student Learning” does not need to be mentioned in every non-academic departmental assessment report, it is the recommendation of the Assessment Committee that department heads and directors create their assessment plans and reports. Then, selected ATU administrators such as Associate Vice Presidents or Vice Presidents will be responsible for managing these assessment plans and reports and for describing how each of the departments they oversee affect student learning and how it ties into the plans and reports. Effectively, most ATU administrators do not have an assessment plan for their own office; their assessment plan is a compilation and evaluation of all the plans for the departments that report to them and how their departments affect student learning.
7. How do I encourage my employees to participate in assessment?
Knowledge of the purpose and goals of assessment usually encourages staff to participate. This is the best way to make improvements and to ensure that all staff in your department has a say. The best way to encourage our staff is by responding to the results and showing everyone involved that their participation is making a difference. Department heads or directors can also encourage their staff by setting aside a separate time in each department meeting where assessment issues are discussed.
8. What do we measure and what kinds of information do we collect?
What you measure is a simple question to answer; just evaluate whatever your general job duties require, as well as, anything that comes from your mission or vision statement. What kinds of information to collect is more difficult; this varies tremendously by department; you can use things such as audit reports, student surveys, faculty/staff surveys, meeting minutes, etc..
9. What makes for good assessment measures, and how many do you need?
The kinds of things that make for good assessment measures include: third party observations, self-administered questionnaires, interviews with students, faculty, and/or staff, and external assessment instruments (Audit reports, Federal or State reports, etc.). How many measures you need is greatly dependant upon the type of goal or objective you have and the available measures for that goal or objective. In general, you only need one measure if it is a direct measure; if all that are available are indirect measures then you may need more than one. For more help on this topic please talk to a member of the Assessment Committee with your specific examples.
10. What is the difference between direct and indirect measurements?
Direct measures assess departmental performance without the use of opinions, thoughts,
or assumptions. A Direct measure will usually be very concise and easy to interpret.
For example, a Finance department may have a goal of receiving an unqualified audit
every year, a direct measure of this goal would be the State’s audit report of ATU’s
financial activities. If the IR department has a goal of submitting ADHE reporting
files on time and accurately every semester, then a direct measure would be the records
kept by the IR department that indicate whether or not the reporting files were sent
on or before the due date and whether or not any re-submissions were necessary due
to inaccurate data.
Indirect measures assess opinions or thoughts about whether or not your department meets it goals of being effective, efficient, and whether or not your department completes all tasks that are expected. Indirect measures are most commonly captured by the use of surveys.
11. Can’t we just resubmit the same report as we did last year since we didn’t do anything different?
No. Each year the departments benefit from assessment in some way, whether it is from changes made as a result of their own assessments or from those made as a result of a past year’s assessments. Some changes can be made immediately. Other changes will take more time. Nobody denies that good assessment can reveal consistent trends. If staff are tempted to produce the same report each year with only minor modifications, then it could mean that you and your employees are overly concerned with the process of assessment rather than using it in a meaningful way. Always remember, your assessment report is not your goal. You should be ensuring that your department is doing all that is expected in the most efficient way possible with the tools and resources available. It is very likely that your assessment goals or objectives will remain constant from year to year; but the report should not.
12. Should we consistently meet all of our goals each year?
If every goal is met consistently from year to year, it may mean that the goals are set too low. Purposefully setting goals that are easily met defeats the purpose for having an assessment plan. On the other hand, usually you do not want to set goals that are impossible to reach. It is expected that sometimes you will meet some or all of your goals and sometimes you will not meet all of them.
13. How does our departmental assessment plan relate to the four column report provided to the Assessment Committee and what is the due date for my assessment plan and report?
The 4 column template has been replaced with an assessment tracking software package called TracDat. From now on, all assessment plans, reports, and data will be entered into TracDat. The appropriate senior level administrator will decide when the assessment plans and reports are due for all departments that report to them; for some departments; April 1 is the most logical due date, for other departments, October 1 may be the most appropriate due date. The Assessment Committee should be notified of all due dates; the committee recommends using one of the following as a due date: January 1, April 1, July 1, or October 1.
14. What resources can the University Assessment Committee offer to us?
Knowledge, experience, and examples of assessment. The Committee also offers grants of up to $5,000 to cover innovative assessment projects other than what you would normally do.
15. What if we don’t have time for assessment?
Everybody has time for assessment. Assessment is essential for a department to stay focused on their mission and to stay current with Federal, State, and University policy. It is necessary to make assessment a top priority in order for a department to know if they are consistently performing at or above what is expected and needed.