Why Are We Assessing?

March 24, 2018

We the undersigned have all dedicated a portion of our careers to helping our institutional colleagues assess student learning. Many of us are or have been teaching faculty, and it’s our passion for teaching and helping students learn that drew us to this work.

We work at all kinds of institutions, large and small, public and private, research universities and two-year colleges. Our common bond is a conviction that, as good as American higher education is, today’s students—and society—need not just a good but the best possible education. We see assessment as a vital tool to making that happen.

We’ve found that assessment, when done well, can benefit students, faculty, co-curricular staff, and higher education institutions in a number of ways, including contributing to better learning.

For students, the clear expectations for learning that are part of good assessment practices help them understand where they should focus their learning time and energies. When learning outcomes, learning activities, assignments, and other assessments are clear and integrated with each other, student learning is more meaningful and long-lasting. Assessment, especially through grading and other feedback processes, motivates students to do their best. And feedback from assessment helps students understand their strengths and how they might try to improve.

For faculty and co-curricular staff, assessment helps them understand and thereby improve student learning by encouraging reflection on questions such as the following: What do you most want your students to learn? Why? How are you helping them learn those things? How well are they learning those things? How do you know? How might you help them learn more effectively? Assessment encourages faculty and co-curricular staff to collaborate with students and each other in discussing these questions and deciding how best to help students learn. These conversations help faculty and staff see how courses and other learning experiences link together to form coherent, integrated programs and how the courses and learning experiences they offer contribute to student success in subsequent pursuits.

For colleges and universities in an era when American higher education is sometimes criticized as expensive or irrelevant, assessment enables them to provide evidence to students, their families, taxpayers, donors and, yes, accreditors that, if students successfully complete this course or program, they will indeed have learned the important things that faculty and staff commit to in the institutional mission, catalog and course syllabi. Many of us who work in assessment see translation as an important part of our responsibilities; we aim to translate the work of faculty and co-curricular staff into terms that students and other stakeholders—including accreditors—easily understand and appreciate, showing them that everyone’s investments in higher education are worthwhile.

Students, faculty, co-curricular staff, and colleges and universities will generally see these benefits of assessment only when assessment is reasonably well done. So what are good assessment practices? The movement to articulate and assess learning outcomes systematically is about 25 years old—a blink of an eye in the history of higher education. We’re still figuring assessment out, and we readily acknowledge that there’s plenty of room for improvement in how we assess. But we have learned that assessment is most effective under the following circumstances.

Students, faculty, and co-curricular staff share responsibility for student learning. An impressive body of research demonstrates that “learning-centered” strategies—those in which students are actively engaged in their learning and faculty and students share responsibility for learning—are remarkably effective in helping today’s students learn and succeed. We cannot force students to learn, but we can create motivating and effective educational environments that make learning more likely to occur, and evidence from assessment can help us do so.

Institutional leaders make student learning a valued priority. They actively encourage faculty and co-curricular staff to employ research-informed educational strategies and to use assessment and other systematic evidence to decide how best to do so. They invest institutional resources to help faculty and staff do this. They help create time and space for faculty and staff to collaborate on discussions and decisions on teaching, learning, and assessment. They make sure that faculty and staff receive clear guidance, helpful coordination, resources, and constructive feedback that help faculty and staff decide what and how to assess. They ensure that faculty and staff are recognized in meaningful ways for their work to systematically assess and improve student learning.

Faculty and co-curricular staff are respected leaders and partners in the assessment process. Those who determine curricula, teaching methods, and learning strategies collaborate to determine the best ways to assess student learning.

Everyone takes a flexible approach to assessment. Teaching is a human endeavor, and every institution, program, and student cohort is unique, so one size does not fit all. Faculty and co-curricular staff help choose and use assessment tools and strategies that are appropriate to their discipline and setting and that will give them useful information on student learning.

Assessment respects and builds on what faculty and staff are already doing well. For literally thousands of years, faculty have been assessing student learning through grading and feedback processes. Today, assessment simply builds this work into processes of collaborative, systematic inquiry.

Everyone focuses on collecting information that’s genuinely useful in understanding and improving student learning. If anyone finds that something hasn’t been helpful, they try to figure out what went wrong and implement an alternative approach.

Assessment is kept as cost-effective as possible. Everyone routinely compares the time spent on assessment with the usefulness of the process and results in understanding and improving student learning. Everyone aims to minimize fruitless or time-intensive assessment activities. Reports on assessment activities and findings have clear purposes and audiences and are kept to the bare-bones minimum needed to meet those needs.

Everyone recognizes that the perfect can be the enemy of the good. While assessment is a form of systematic inquiry, it does not necessarily have to be approached as empirical research; it’s designed to collect reasonably good quality information to help everyone make better decisions. Common sense applies here; assessments that may lead to major, expensive changes may need to be more rigorously designed than those informing minor adjustments to a learning activity. Of course, if you want to conduct research on how best to help students learn, great! The higher education community needs more scholarship on teaching, learning, and assessment.

Disappointing outcomes are viewed as opportunities for improvement and are addressed fairly, supportively, and compassionately. Resources are available to help faculty and co-curricular staff identify and implement strategies to try to improve student learning, and those who make assessment-informed changes are recognized for their work.

There is an institution-wide commitment to innovation and improvement. If everyone is satisfied with the status quo, there’s no point in assessing.

Is all this worthwhile? Here are a few examples of assessment work making a big impact:

  1. After using rubrics to assess student learning in its writing-intensive, capstone, and service-learning courses, Daemen College hired a writing coordinator and writing-in-the-disciplines specialist, added an information literacy component to its first-year writing course, increased the proportion of first-year writing courses taught by full-time faculty from 35 to 90 percent, and offered workshops to faculty teaching writing-intensive courses. (For more information, see http://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/VALUE/daemen.pdf.)
  2. After assessment results suggested the need to improve students’ digital literacy, Carlow University implemented an extensive faculty professional development program. (For more information, see http://nsse.indiana.edu/NSSE_2016_Results/index.cfm.)
  3. After assessing first-year students' writing and finding disappointing outcomes for critical thinking and information competence, Norco College appointed course mentors and created a handbook and model assignments for faculty teaching first-year writing courses. (For more information, see "Can Assessment Loops Be Closed?" in the July-August 2014 issue of Assessment Update.)

To sum all this up: assessment is most effective and useful when faculty and co-curricular staff are valued, respected, supported, and engaged as part of a community that focuses purposefully and collaboratively on helping every student receive the best possible education. We are all committed to helping everyone at our institutions make that happen. Call on us — we are here to help.

Julie Jackson Albee, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment
Hannibal-LaGrange University
Patricia Alvey, Ph.D.
Associate Provost, Institutional Planning & Effectiveness
Southern Methodist University
Laura Ariovich, Ph.D.
Director of Institutional Assessment
Prince George’s Community College
Jo-Ellen Asbury, Ph.D.
Associate Provost for Institutional Planning and Assessment
Brooklyn College/CUNY
Christine Bachen, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment and Associate Professor of Communication
Santa Clara University
Debra Ballard
Chair, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Associate Provost for Assessment and Accreditation
Otis College of Art and Design
Michael Ben-Avie, Ph.D.
Interim Associate Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness
Southern Connecticut State University
Alicia Betsinger, Ph.D.
Associate Provost, Institutional Research
Dartmouth College
Laura Palucki Blake, Ph. D.
Director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness
Harvey Mudd College
Joel D. Bloom, Ph.D.
Senior Director of Accreditation and Assessment
Long Island University
Jessica Blumerick
Assessment Manager
University of Michigan - Dearborn
Amanda M. Brey, Ed.D
Principal Assessment Analyst
UC Santa Barbara
Matthew C. Bronson, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment
Dominican University of California
Robert Todd Bruce, Ph.D.
Assistant Provost for Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment
John Carroll University
Ruth E. Cain, Ed.D.
Director of Assessment
University of Missouri--Kansas City
Jill Carlson, M.A.
Director for Assessment and Accreditation
Santa Fe Community College
Kim Chandler, Ph.D.
Executive Director of Planning, Research, & Institutional Effectiveness
Eastfield College
Rebekah Chow
Manager of Institutional Effectiveness
Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology
Fiona H. Chrystall, Ph.D.
Director of Curriculum Assurance and Assessment
Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College
Cindy Cogswell, Ph.D.          
Associate Director, Accreditation and Assessment   
Dartmouth College
Janelle Coleman, Ph.D.
Faculty Consultant for Assessment
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Christopher C. Combie, Ph.D.
Assistant Director, Institutional Effectiveness
University of South Florida
Ann E. Damiano, D.Litt.
Dean for Academic Assessment
Utica College
Bina Daniel
Director of Assessment
Delaware State University
Summer DeProw, Ph.D.
Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs & Director of Assessment
Arkansas State University
Susan Donat, Ph.D.
Director of Curriculum
Messiah College
Becky Dueben, Ph.D.
VCEA Academic Center Director & Special Projects Liaison
Washington State University Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture
Brenda Edmonds
Professor, Mathematics; former Co-Director of Outcomes Assessment
Johnson County Community College
Gerald S. Edmonds, Ph.D.
Assistant Provost
Syracuse University
Steve Ehrmann
VIce Provost for Teaching & Learning (retired)
George Washington University
Omar Elshennawy
IR Research Analyst
University of Central Florida
Vivienne Felix, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Experiential Learning
New York University
Elaine Finan, M.A.
Assistant Director, Office for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning
University of Rhode Island
Debbie Finocchio
Program Coordinator, Assessment of Core Curriculum
University of San Diego
Jodi Fisler, Ph.D.
Associate for Assessment Policy & Analysis
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
Patty Flowers
Assessment Coordinator
University of Tennessee at Martin
André Foisy
Executive Director of Institutional Outcomes Assessment
Excelsior College
Matthew B. Fuller, Ph. D.
Associate Professor, Higher Education Leadership
Sam Houston State University
Denise C. Gardner, Ph.D.
Assistant Provost and Director, Office of Institutional Research and Analysis
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Sarah Gordon, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Oklahoma State University
Kathleen Gorski, Ed.D.
Assistant Dean of Outcomes Assessment and Program Review
Waubonsee Community College
Faon Grandinetti
Associate Director, Outcomes Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness
Harper College
Kevin R. Guidry, Ph.D.
Associate Director of Educational Assessment, Center for Teaching & Assessment of Learning
University of Delaware
Paula Haines, M.Phil.
Director of Curriculum, Assessment & Accreditation
University of Massachusetts Lowell
Adam K. Halemano, Jr., M.A., M.Ed.
Institutional Assessment Specialist
Leeward Community College
Christy Hammond, M.S.N., R.N.
Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Assistant Professor of Nursing
Research College of Nursing
Jana M. Hanson, Ph.D.
Director of Institutional Assessment
South Dakota State University
Laura Hart, Ed.D.
Director of Assessment and Accreditation for the Cato College of Education
UNC Charlotte
Nora Hatton
Director of Assessment
Pittsburg State University
Joan Hawthorne, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment and Regional Accreditation
University of North Dakota
Michael A. Heel, M.P.P., M.A.
Associate Director of Curriculum and Assessment
Monroe Community College
Bill Heinrich
Director of Assessment
Michigan State University Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology
Gavin Henning, Ph.D.
Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education
Caroline Hilk, Ph.D.
Assistant Provost
Hamline University
Cynthia Howell, Ed.D.
Distinguished Faculty, Leadership for Higher Education
Capella University
Heather D. Hussey, Ph.D.
Director of Institutional Assessment
Northcentral University
Nicola M. Imbracsio, Ph.D.
Assessment Coordinator & Faculty
Michigan State University Center for Integrative Studies in the Arts & Humanities
Curtis G. Jefferson, M.S.
Director of Operations for Experiential Education & Assessment
University of Washington School of Pharmacy
Bernadette M.E. Jungblut, Ph.D.
Associate Provost for Accreditation, Academic Planning, and Assessment
Central Washington University
Daniel J. Kaczmarek
Director of Assessment and Evaluation, Student Life
University at Buffalo
Jonathan Keiser
Associate Vice Chancellor for Educational Quality
City Colleges of Chicago
Ebenezer F. Kolajo, Ph.D.
Assistant Provost
Radford University
Stephanie Kolitsch, Ph.D.
Professor of Mathematics and Coordinator, SACSCOC Accreditation
University of Tennessee at Martin
Denise Kruizenga-Muro
Associate Professor of English
Riverside City College
Thomas D. Leary IV, Ed.D.
Learning Strategist and Assessment Professional
Franklin, Wisconsin
Deborah Lee
Director of Institutional Research and Assessment
Concordia University Irvine
Joseph D. Levy
Executive Director of Assessment and Accreditation
National Louis University
Crissy Lewis, M.L.I.S.
Director of Institutional Effectiveness
Sherman College of Chiropractic
Belinda L. Locke, Ph.D.
Coordinator for Assessment & Strategic Planning in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Cari Lott, Ed.D.
Associate Dean of Institutional Research and Assessment
McPherson College
Cynthia Louden
Director of Assessment
Columbia College of Missouri
Marlene P. Lowe, Ph.D.
Director of Student Affairs Assessment & Evaluation
UC San Diego
Jason Lyons, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment
Christopher Newport University
Jacqueline MacNeil
Executive Director for Institutional Effectiveness
Eckerd College
Pamela A. MacPherson
Director of Institutional Research and Assessment
Delaware College of Art and Design
Cecelia G. Martin
Director of Assessment
University of South Alabama
Hugh McNiece
Professor of Mathematics                                 
Lincoln Land Community College
Tracey Meilander, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Biology, & Director of Assessment
Notre Dame College
Julia Metzker, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Brown Center for Faculty Innovation and Excellence
Stetson University
Kara Moloney, Ph.D.
Academic Assessment Lead
University of California, Davis
Tatiana Nazarenko
Dean of Curriculum and Education Effectiveness
Westmont College
Abdou Ndoye, Ph.D.
Assistant Vice Provost for Assessment
Northern Kentucky University
Christina Neider, Ed.D.
Dean, Undergraduate Programs
University of Phoenix School of Health Services Administration
Carrie Nepstad, M.S.
Associate Professor and Assessment Committee Chair
Harold Washington College, City Colleges of Chicago
Deborah L. Panter, J.D.
Director of Educational Effectiveness & Assessment
University of San Francisco
Richard E. Parent, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment for Online Programs
University of New England
Fiorella Penaloza, D.M.
Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment, Assistant Faculty
Cleveland University- Kansas City
Susan Perry
Assistant Provost
Kent State University
Ellen Peters
Director of Institutional Research and Retention
University of Puget Sound
Nhung Pham
University Assessment Coordinator
University of Central Missouri
Dale Pietrzak, Ed.D.
Director, Institutional Effectiveness and Accreditation
University of Idaho
Gina B. Polychronopoulos, Ph.D.
Assistant Director of Assessment
Christopher Newport University
Linda A. Pursley, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment
Lesley University
Kathleen Langan Pusecker
Director, Center for Teaching & Assessment of Learning
University of Delaware
Sabrina Qureshi
Assessment Specialist/Instructor
The University of Virginia’s College at Wise
Tony Ribera, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Rochelle M. Roberts, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment
University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy
Ester Rogers
Director of Institutional Assessment and Accreditation
Occidental College
Mariajosé Romero, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment and Planning
Pace University
Sharron Ronco
Assessment Director
Marquette University
Tara Rose, Ph.D.
Senior Associate for Academic Quality
Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education
Nancy Ruggeri, Ph.D.
Director, Graduate and Postdoctoral Learning
Northwestern University
Chad W. Russell, Ph.D.
Assessment Coordinator for the Department of Writing and Rhetoric
The University of Mississippi
Mark Salisbury, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean and Director of Institutional Research and Assessment
Augustana College
Connie Schaffer, Ed.D.
Faculty Fellow in Assessment
University of Nebraska at Omaha
Mandy Seiferlein
Director of Assessment
Ferris State University College of Pharmacy
Carina E. Self, Ph.D.
Associate Dean of Academic Effectiveness
Granite State College
Sara Seyller, M.P.A.
Office of Instruction
Clark College
Ruth Slotnick, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment
Bridgewater State University
Jane Marie Souza, Ph.D.
Assistant Provost for Academic Administration/Chief Assessment Officer
University of Rochester
Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D.
Director, Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida
Jeffrey Stanton, Ph.D.
Professor and Associate Provost
Syracuse University
Katarína Stehlíková (Svítková), Ph.D.
Vice President and Accreditation Liaison Officer
Anglo American University
Pam Steinke, Ph.D.
Dean of Teaching & Learning Outcomes
University of St. Francis
Cindy Stephens
Faculty Student Learning Outcomes Co-Coordinator
College of the Canyons
Mark Stewart
Professor of Psychology
Willamette University
Monica Stitt-Bergh, Ph.D.
Associate Specialist
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Sarah L. Strout, Ph.D.
Assistant Vice President for Assessment and Planning
Worcester State University
Linda Suskie, M.A.
Assessment & Accreditation Consultant
Lancaster, PA
Jennifer Sweet, Ph.D.
Associate Director of Assessment
DePaul University
Yuerong Sweetland, Ph.D.
Director of Teaching and Learning Assessment
Franklin University
Roberta C. Teahen, Ph.D.
Associate Provost for Accreditation, Assessment, Compliance, and Evaluation
Ferris State University
D. Scott Tharp, Ph.D., M.S.W.
Student Affairs Assessment Coordinator
DePaul University
Patricia Thatcher, Ph.D.
Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs
Misericordia University
Amanda Thomas
University of West Georgia
Yen M. To, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment & Institutional Research
Missouri Western State University
Jane Turk
High-Impact Learning Practices Coordinator
Hamline University
Amanda Udis-Kessler, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment and Program Review
Colorado College
Sharon Latkovich Valente, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment, Evaluation, & Accreditation
University of Hawai'i West O'ahu
Roelof van Deemter
Assessment Specialist
University of Groningen, The Netherlands
Donna Vinton, Ph.D.
Professional Staff Emerita
University of Northern Iowa
Susan C. Warner Taylor, Ph.D.
Director of Institutional Research & Assessment
Baldwin Wallace University
Catherine M. Wehlburg, Ph.D.
Associate Provost
Texas Christian University
Suzanne Weinstein, Ph.D.
Assistant Vice Provost for Learning Outcomes Assessment
The Pennsylvania State University
Christopher C. Willis, M.Ed., M.A.
Coordinator, Learning Analytics & Assessment
North Carolina State University – DELTA
Nevada Winrow, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President
Morris Brown College
Karen Wong
Coordinator of Institutional Effectiveness and Professor of English
Skyline College
Yi-Chin Sarah Wu
Associate Director of Assessment
Kent State University
Michele Yurecko, Ph.D.
Director of Institutional Research and Academic Assessment
College of Saint Elizabeth
Sarah B. Zahl, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean for Accreditation Logistics and Advancement
Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine