Print Page | Report Abuse | Sign In | Become a Member of AALHE
Share |

Assessment Needs Work: What can we do? (Part II)

January 12, 2016

Jean Downs, Director of Assessment, Del Mar College, Corpus Christi, TX

Part II of the discussion around Dr. Erik Gilbert’s question, “Does Assessment Make Colleges Better? Who Knows?” posed in The Chronicle a few weeks ago. Part II features an invigorating conversation across campuses, listservs, and social media on how to improve our understanding of learning outcomes assessment (and its language), reward faculty and institutions for improving teaching and learning with assessment, improve the preparation of future faculty, accept responsibility for accountability and assessment of learning, and more!

Read Part I of the dialogue.

Improve Understanding of Learning Outcomes Assessment – and its Language
Learning outcomes assessment is the process of collecting evidence about student learning in order to improve it. It is not synonymous with entering data into an assessment management system (frequently heard on SACS campuses: “I gotta do my WEAVE.”). It is frequently used to provide grades, but when used in this context, grading should not be confused with learning outcomes assessment (here’s why).

It is not synonymous with evaluation; although assessment – and the resulting data – should be used to inform academic program review (a type of program evaluation), it should NEVER be used to evaluate faculty, teaching, or courses.

Reward faculty and institutions for improving teaching and learning with assessment
Continuing the discussion with Dr Eder on LinkedIn, Dr. Suskie wrote, “one of my memories… was one professor telling us, ‘I know I could be a better teacher. But I need to get my promotion, and the only way I’ll get it is by spending every waking hour working on getting published research. As long as my student evaluations are decent, trying to improve my teaching doesn’t count.’ There are a lot of sources of resistance to assessment, and that’s just one, but it’s a big one.” Teaching is gaining a greater emphasis in three criteria that dominate tenure reviews at four-year colleges and universities, but what else can we do to reward students, faculty and institutions for great learning?

Teri Lyn Hinds recommends that faculty work on assessment be more formally recognized in the scholarship of teaching and learning, especially to balance the faculty workload during tenure and promotion processes. This recommendation aligns well with Dr. Souza’s suggestion to change the word assessment to research. Even if we didn’t formally attempt to change the dreaded “A” word, what if the discussion of assessment could be more firmly associated with learning, research, and student achievement rather than terms like evaluation, documentation, accreditation, or numbers?

Dr. David Dirlam recommended the intrinsically motivating and psychological rewards of real-time assessment, which Peggy Maki recently highlighted as a good practice for 21st century learners in her keynote address at the SACS Summer Institute on Quality Enhancement and Accreditation. Not only do students receive more instantaneous feedback, but faculty do not have to suffer another infrequently discussed frustration of learning outcomes assessment: the delayed gratification of waiting a year (or longer) to find anything of satisfaction from the assessment data.

Improve Preparation of Future Faculty
Even though learning outcomes assessment has been heavily mandated in higher education for two decades, many graduate programs do not train faculty about this core function of teaching and service (and perhaps even scholarship). Programs like the Council of Graduate School’s Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) to Assess Student Learning have examined how professional development programs can best train graduate students in the assessment of student learning, and the use of outcomes measures to improve teaching and course design. How should we design the curriculum?

Accept Responsibility for Accountability and Assessment of Learning
Despite consensus about whether or not assessment makes colleges better answer, the bottom line is what Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and other have warned: “if colleges and universities do not accept more responsibility for assessment and accountability, the federal government will do it for them” (Denecke, Kent, & Wiener, 2011).

Communicate about achievements in learning in clear and meaningful ways
(Eubanks & Gliem, 2015; Kuh, et al., 2015).
Capella University designated an entire website to results for individual programs on learning and career outcomes – and included video explanations of the reports. What are some other examples that we can use as models (especially for those with fewer resources)?

“Develop ways to better share the information that we have on student learning”
(Wehlburg, 2015).
After the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) was created in 2008, the Association for Assessment of Learning in Higher Education (AALHE) joined forces in 2009 to collaborate on a national level to support practitioners interested in using effective assessment practice to document and improve student learning.

At AALHE, we hope you’ll continue the dialogue with us as new trends about teaching and learning emerge…

To continue the conversation about the cultures of assessing student learning in higher education, please join us for AALHE’s upcoming webinar, “Faculty Perspectives on Cultures of Assessment,” featuring the research of Dr. Matt Fuller, Sam Houston State University – October 16, 1:00 – 2:30 EST 2015.

Part I of the dialogue – Assessment Works! But it Needs More Work

References & Resources

Recommended during these discussions with colleagues:

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, 5(1), 7 – 74.

Blackburn, R. T., & Lawrence, J. H. (1995). Faculty at work: Motivation, expectation, satisfaction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Grunwald, H., & Peterson, M. W. (2003). Factors that promote faculty involvement in and satisfaction with institutional and classroom student assessment. Research in Higher Education, 44(2), 173 – 204.

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.

Jonson, J. L., Guetterman, T., & Thompson, R. J. (2014). An integrated
model of influence: Use of assessment data in higher educationResearch
and Practice in Assessment, 9(1), 18-30.

Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory. Psychological Bulletin, 119(2), 254 – 284.

Kuh, G. D., Ikenberry, S. O., Jankowski, N. A.. Cain, T. R., Ewell, P. T.., Hutchings, P., & Kinzie, J. (2015). Using evidence of student learning to improve higher education. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

Lattuca, L. R., Terenzini, P. T., & Volkwein, J. F. (2006). Engineering change: A study of the impact of ED2000. ABET

Swing, R.L. (2010). Supporting assessment: cost/benefit considerations. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges annual meeting and conference. Boston, MA.

Wheatley, M., & Kellner-Rogers, M. (1999). What do we measure and why? Questions about the uses of measurement. Journal for Strategic Performance Measurement. Retrieved from

Zayed University (n.d.). Educational Effectiveness [Webpage].

Used in this Dialogue:

Denecke, D. D., Kent, J., & Wiener, W. (2011). Preparing future faculty to assess student learning. Council of Graduate Schools, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

Eubanks, D., & Gliem, D. (2015, May). Improving teaching, learning, and assessment by making evidence of achievement transparent. (Occasional Paper No. 25). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

Ewell, P. T. (2009, November). Assessment, Accountability, and Improvement: Revisiting the Tension. (NILOA Occasional Paper No.1). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

Fuller, M.B. & Beck, J. (2015). Nation-wide report of the Faculty Survey of Assessment Culture. Huntsville, TX: Sam Houston State University.

Gilbert, E. (2015). Does assessment make colleges better? Who knows? The Chronicle of Higher Education: Commentary. Retrieved from

Hawthorne, J. (2015, Aug 19). Does assessment make colleges better? Let me count the ways. The Chronicle of Higher Education: Commentary. Retrieved from

Kuh, G. D., Ikenberry, S. O., Jankowski, N. A.. Cain, T. R., Ewell, P. T.., Hutchings, P., & Kinzie, J. (2015). Using evidence of student learning to improve higher education. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

Hoover, E. (2009). An expert surveys the assessment landscape. The Chronicle: Students. Retrieved from

Newkirk, T. (2010). How should we assess student learning? In A. S. Canestrari, B. A. Marlowe (Eds., 2nd Ed.), Educational Foundations: An Anthology of Critical Readings. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Participants in this Dialogue

Bailey, Sharon – University of Houston-Victoria – ASSESS listserv – 8-19-2015

Comiskey, Carolyn – Fashion Institute of Technology – SUNY – 8-19-2015

Dirlam, David – Virginia Wesleyan College – personal communication – 9-3-2015

Douglas Eder – Southern Illinois University – LinkedIn discussion Higher Education: Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes & Educational Innovation 8-23-2015.

Ehrmann, Steve – University System of Maryland – ASSESS listserv – 8-18-2015

Fuller, Matt – Sam Houston State University – personal communication – 9-4-2015

Hinds, Teri Lyn – Association for Public and Land Grant Universities – ASSESS listserv – 8-19-2015

Penn, Jeremy – North Dakota State University – ASSESS listserv – 8-21-2015

Souza, Jane Marie – University of Rochester – ASSESS listserv – 8-18-2015

Suskie, Linda – ASSESS listserv – 8-18-2015

Wehlburg, Catherine – Texas Christian University – ASSESS listserv – 8-18-2015

Return to Emerging Dialogues summary page

Connect With Us

Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education
60 Terra Cotta Ave. 
Suite B #307
Crystal Lake, IL 60014 

Phone: 859-388-0855