Assessment is ensuring that your students learn what you expect them to learn and making necessary changes to strengthen your program. The key question is how you know if they actually learn these things. For many years, college faculty assumed that if students took the right kinds of courses and made good grades, then they must have learned the material. But many people, especially students, no longer accept such assumptions. You probably don't either. How many times have you asked yourself, "how did that student ever graduate"? You know the student has not learned what you think a graduate from your program should know, but the student made the necessary grades to pass.
Assessment is also a collaborative effort that begins when faculty in your department decide what things they expect their majors to have learned when they finish your program. But it is also a systematic process of determining how students learn these things, and if not, deciding what changes are necessary to improve their learning.
Assessment at Arkansas Tech enables faculty and staff to answer important questions asked by students, parents, employers, accrediting bodies, and legislators about what our college degree is worth. Everyone benefits when ATU builds a process that helps academic programs and courses systematically improve.
Assessment is not about collecting data, repeatedly testing students, telling faculty what they must teach, or making all faculty conform to one model of collegiate instruction.
Assessment is not always quantifiable, nor is it contradictory to the goals of liberal learning that have been valued for centuries.
Above all, assessment is not about evaluating the abilities of a single professor or student. In fact, assessment is really not about individuals at all. It is evaluating the larger dimensions of your program and, in many cases, how they relate to the goals of the university as a whole.
The first thing is for your faculty to determine what they believe students in their program should learn. This differs, obviously, from discipline to discipline, but it can also differ among the various schools of the university. For example, your department may have only one major and all the faculty teach for that major. Still, your faculty also has unique strengths that separate them from a similar department on another campus. Faculty should always keep their abilities in mind as well as the needs of their discipline when determining what they want their students to learn.
After faculty decide what they want their majors to learn, then a decision must be made about ensuring their goals are 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 students easily meet program goals, perhaps they are too low. If students fail to learn some key information about your discipline, then perhaps courses should be changed. Regardless, goals do matter and meeting those goals matter more than simply going through the steps. Too often, department heads 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 program.
Knowledge of the purpose and goals of assessment usually encourage faculty to participate in assessment. The main way we can encourage is if we respond to the results and show them that their participation is making a difference.
The best way department heads can encourage faculty is by setting aside a separate time in each department meeting where assessment issues are discussed. Chances are you do this already and call this point in your meeting by a different name. When faculty discuss their students and their programs, assessment is taking place.
You can learn more on the ATU Assessment Practices page.
ACADEMIC SUPPORT UNITS
Assessment is a process of measuring results against a pre-defined set of goals or objectives and using this information to make adjustments for improvement. A department or office uses assessment to measure its success.
Assessment is a collaborative effort that includes all staff members in the department, as well as any direct or indirect constituents that influence the department or are impacted by the department.
The assessment process is important because it 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. It also 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.
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. Rather, it is a performance evaluation of the whole department. By performing an assessment evaluation, it can allow for possible changes based on the results of the assessment reporting. 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.
Assessment is not just for faculty. Everybody does assessment in some form or fashion. 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, no matter what department you work in! However, there is big difference in how faculty conducts assessment and how non-academic departments conduct assessment.
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 okay 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.
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 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.
You can learn more on the ATU Assessment Practices page.