Natasha Jankowski, Director of the National
Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment
Assessment as a
field of practice has well established principles of what “good” assessment entails
that have stood the test of time. In 1992, nine principles were put forward
via the American Association of Higher Education (AAHE) Assessment Forum,
building on prior efforts by campuses to lay out guidelines for the meaningful
practice of assessment by synthesizing the work already undertaken, as well as
to invite additional statements about responsible and effective assessment
efforts. With an illustrious list of authors including Alexander Astin, Trudy
Banta, Pat Cross, Peter Ewell, Pat Hutchings, Ted Marchese, Margaret Miller,
and others, the Principles of Good Practice for Assessing
provide a compelling counterpoint to the current narratives swirling around the
disillusionment with assessment of higher education as an industrial and
bureaucratic enterprise (see Gilbert and Worthen pieces). The principles open with a discussion of assessment that
builds upon the ongoing work of faculty looking at student learning within
their courses, to move towards examining student learning across courses for a
more cumulative picture of how our collective pieces integrate and fit together
for our learners. The core framing of the document is that the connection
between assessment and improvement not be lost in the accountability
discussion, asserting that the importance of the work is on improving student
learning. The vision for the principles is coupled with a vision of the
purposes of education, one that is as timely and relevant today as it was in
in the principles that follow is a vision of education that entails high
expectations for all students, active forms of learning, coherent curricula,
and effective out-of-class opportunities; to these ends, we need assessment—systematic,
usable information about student learning—that helps us fulfill our responsibilities
to the students who come to us for an education and to the publics whose trust
supports our work (AAHE, 1992).
In addition to the
AAHE principles, guidelines for meaningful and intentional engagement with
assessment continued to be developed in the form of the Principles and Profiles
of Good Practice (Banta, Jones, & Black, 2009), New Leadership Alliance’s Committing to Quality: Guidelines for
Assessment and Accountability in Higher Education (2012), the Principles for Effective Assessment of
Student Achievement (WSCUC,
2013) which was endorsed by higher education associations and regional
accreditors, Guidelines for Judging the Effectiveness of
Assessing Student Learning
(Braskamp & Engberg, 2014), and five principles of practice informed by
research from the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (2016).
All to say, as a field, we have been thinking meaningfully about our work and
what drives us as it relates to improving student learning.
none of these principles or guidelines supports or endorses the ‘bane to
faculty existence of assessment as administrative burden’ picture painted by
Gilbert, Worthen, and others. So why do these tensions exist between
administrative burden and teaching and learning approaches to assessment? Why
have we yet to fully realize the principles of good assessment practice developed
from the field? And how are assessment practices unfolding that provide a way
forward to address the tensions and realize more fully our shared principles?
When we looked
across our case studies of assessment practice, we found the AAHE principles in
use but still under development (Kinzie, Jankowski, & Provezis, 2014). The
principles lay out the vision to guide our work, but there are various tensions
that provide road blocks to progress – namely a compliance mentality driven by
external accountability efforts. In the National Institute for Learning
Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) surveys of the field, regional accreditation
remains the top driver of assessment efforts (Kuh & Ikenberry, 2009; Kuh,
Jankowski, Ikenberry, & Kinzie, 2014; Jankowski, Timmer, Kinzie, & Kuh,
2018). This is not new, in 2009, Peter Ewell wrote about the tensions between
external accountability drivers to assessment practices and internal
improvement building on a paper addressing the same topic from the 1980s. While
it is easy to say, “focus on improvement and you will have what you need to
address external accountability,” if the requirements for what counts as
evidence for improvement and accountability don’t match or if administrative
support is not on the same page regarding why assessment is undertaken, then
realizing the connection between the two becomes increasingly difficult.
Elsewhere, I wrote
about different mentalities, or lenses, that are brought to bear on our
assessment efforts—that of measurement, compliance, or teaching and learning
(Jankowski, 2017). The point of that piece was to help tease out the different
reasons we engage in assessment work the ways that we do. However, it is
important to note that we need a bit of each to have a successful, meaningful
assessment process. We can’t ignore issues of measurement or compliance,
neither can we ignore teaching and learning. The question is, how do we create
a balanced approach to accommodating the different pieces. While that may seem an
incredibly difficult task to undertake, there is a lot of work unfolding that
provides ways forward.
In 2015, the NILOA
senior scholars released a book examining the shift from a compliance driven
mentality and organizational structure of assessment to one of meaningful use
(Kuh, et al, 2015). To make this shift happen, we need to critically examine
and reflect upon several elements: what have we designed and organized our
assessment processes to do and how do we communicate about the value and importance
of engaging in meaningful assessment practice? Have our approaches fostered a
means to generate reports at the expense of engaging in faculty-driven
questions about their teaching practices? Has a compliance mentality shifted
our focus and thinking away from realizing the AAHE principles of assessment?
Yes, we do have reports to complete, and we do have metrics and mandates to
respond to—but how often do we educate external audiences on meaningful ways to
engage with assessment or the types of evidence that should be collected and
discussed? How often do we push back on potentially limiting discussions of
comparability? And when high-level administrators come knocking on our door to
inform us that the regional accreditation visit occurs in two years so we need to
get the documentation ready so we can pass, how do we navigate a dialogue on
the impact of framing assessment as solely about external mandates for
reporting? In essence, we become the students in our classes asking how long
the paper is, how many citations it needs to have, and our focus is upon
getting it done and documenting it—losing sight of our core principles and
However, there is
hope. While there are a lot of compliance-driven approaches to assessment still
in operation, we are seeing a paradigm shift unfolding in the way assessment
and teaching and learning are viewed as integrated and mutually supportive (Jankowski
& Marshall, 2017). Projects are unfolding nationally that focus on embedded
assignments through faculty-driven approaches such as the VALUE Institute, and
62% of provosts report they are currently facilitating faculty work on the
design of assignments while 77% are currently mapping curriculum to foster more
coherent and integrated learning experiences for students (Jankowski, Timmer,
Kinzie, & Kuh, 2018). There is growth in organizations such as AALHE that
provide space for assessment professionals to engage in reflective dialogue
around issues of measurement and meaningful assessment practices, the relationship
between equity and assessment is being explored (Montenegro & Jankowski,
2017), and the topic of learning improvement is taking increasing prominence
within the field (Fulcher, Good, Coleman, and Smith, 2014).
The Gilbert and
Worthen pieces wouldn’t have hit a nerve if we weren’t in the midst of an
upheaval of paradigms. What they wrote isn’t a new argument for either of them.
A year prior, Worthen wrote about how lecture is better than applied learning
and Gilbert had the same complaints about assessment. Yet, a year ago, it
didn’t have the same reaction, impact, or collective response from the field.
The field is moving, and yes, change is scary and hard. George Kuh likes to say
that change moves at the speed of trust, and yes, there are faculty who have lived
through the reporting regime with mandated approaches to assess student
learning that were quickly developed because an accreditor was coming. They
have every right to be skeptical. But as a field and a profession, assessment
is finding ways to move forward and navigate the tensions, push back, and
realize the principles that inform and guide our practice. It is our job to
communicate the differences between the paradigms that are driving our work and
remind people of the principles that we have consistently operated under. To
engage in a paradigm shift during the time when the usual, or comfortable and
accepted ways of doing things are changing, requires clear communication about
the value and importance of our work, what it is and isn’t, and what the approaches
we support and endorse position us to do and explore. I take heart in the
Gilbert and Worthen pieces because I see them as signals that the change is
upon us and the dialogues are unfolding.
Association for Higher Education (AAHE). 1992. Nine Principles of Good Practice for
Assessing Student Learning. North Kansas City, MO: AAHE.
T. W., Jones, E. A., and Black, K. E. 2009. Designing Effective Assessment:
Principles and Profiles of Good Practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Braskamp, L.A, & Engberg,
M.E. (2014). Guidelines
for judging the effectiveness of assessing student learning. Chicago, IL: Loyola University.
Ewell, P. (2009). Assessment,
accountability, and improvement: Revisiting the tension. Urbana, IL: University of
Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes
Fulcher, K. H., Good, M. R.,
Coleman, C. M., & Smith, K. L. (2014, December). A simple model for
learning improvement: Weigh pig, feed pig, weigh pig.(Occasional
Paper No. 23). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University,
National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.
Jankowski, N. A. (2017).
Moving toward a philosophy of assessment. Assessment Update, 29(3),
Jankowski, N. A., &
Marshall, D. W. (2017). Degrees that matter: Moving higher education to a
learning systems paradigm. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.
Jankowski, N. A., Timmer, J.
D., Kinzie, J., & Kuh, G. D. (2018). Assessment that matters:
Trending toward practices that document authentic student learning. Urbana,
IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for
Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).
Kinzie, J., Jankowski, N.,
& Provezis, S. (2014). Do good
assessment practices measure up to the principles of assessment? Assessment Update, 26(3), 1-2, 14-16.
Kuh, G. D., & Ikenberry,
S. O. (2009). More than you think, less than we need: Learning outcomes
assessment in American higher education. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana
University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).
Kuh, G. D., Ikenberry, S. O.,
Jankowski, N. A., Cain, T. R., Ewell, P., Hutchings, P., & Kinzie, K.
(2015). Using Evidence of Student Learning to Improve Higher Education. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kuh, G. D., Jankowski, N.,
Ikenberry, S. O., & Kinzie, J. (2014). Knowing what students know and
can do: The current state of student learning outcomes assessment in US
colleges and universities. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana
University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).
Montenegro, E., &
Jankowski, N. A. (2017, January). Equity and assessment: Moving towards
culturally responsive assessment. (Occasional Paper No. 29).
Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute
for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).
National Institute for
Learning Outcomes Assessment. (2016, May). Higher education quality: Why
documenting learning matters. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and
Indiana University, Author.
Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability. (2012). Committing
to quality: Guidelines for Assessment and Accountability in Higher Education.
Washington, DC: Author http://www.chea.org/userfiles/PDFs/alliance-committing-to-quality.pdf
Association for Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission
[WSCUC]. (2013). Principles for Effective Assessment of Student Achievement.
Alameda, CA: Author. https://www.wscuc.org/content/principles-effective-assessment-student-achievement