What is Assessment?
“Assessment is an ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student
learning. It involves making our expectations explicit and public; setting
appropriate criteria and high standards for learning quality; systematically
gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence to determine how well
performance matches those expectations and standards; and using the resulting
information to document, explain, and improve performance. When it is embedded
effectively within larger institutional systems, assessment can help us focus
our collective attention, examine our assumptions, and create a shared academic
culture dedicated to assuring and improving the quality of higher education” (Angelo,
As a university, we perform assessment in many forms. We assess student performance by measuring student development and providing feedback for improvement. We establish program goals and student learning outcomes and assess the effectiveness of our programs in relation to the stated goals. Through course evaluations and review, faculty reflect on the success of their semester and determine what changes need to be enacted. Regardless of the objective for assessment, the process works most successfully when it is cyclical. The following is an illustration of an effective assessment plan:
Evaluate: consider the results of the assessments to determine the success toward meeting the goals;
“Closing the Loop”: review current practice and consider what changes, if any, need to occur.
Why is Assessment Important to
Loyola University Chicago?
As a Jesuit institution, assessment is also a key component of both Jesuit tradition and transformative education. The process of assessment, of using what is known to drive pursuit of what is possible, is a strong component of the “commitment to excellence” ingrained in a Jesuit education. The contemplation of the program’s goals and outcomes, as well as the analysis of assessment results for program improvement, represent reflection, another important component of both a Jesuit and transformative education.
Reasons That Assessment is Universally Important
Aside from the overarching necessity for assessment as a means of meeting both institutional and programmatic accreditation requirements, there are two main reasons that assessment is important in higher education:
o To students and their families
As the economy declined, students and their families became increasingly smarter consumers of higher education, looking for data and evidence to back claims of academic excellence. It is not enough for an institution to say that they are providing a solid educational experience; today’s prospective students expect to see what they can expect from an institution, how the institution knows it is successfully delivering on stated outcomes, and demonstrations of successfully meeting these outcomes.
o To government
In recent years, the government has increasingly created expectations and legislation intended to require institutions to demonstrate the existence of intentional practices guided by learning outcomes. Similar to the accountability push from prospective students, this was in part to demand evidence to back claims institutions were making about the quantity and quality of the education their students were receiving.
During the Bush administration, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings called for increased transparency and accountability in institutions of higher education. This call was based in part on the difficulty Spellings and her daughter faced while attempting to make informed decisions during the college selection process. The Commission on the Future of Higher Education was formed to research and produce recommendations for improving higher education; the work of this commission culminated in what is commonly known as the 2006 Spellings Report. Among other recommendations, this report concluded that "higher education must change from a system primarily based on reputation to one based on performance." In order to encourage compliance, the government offered to match funds to colleges and universities that “collect and publicly report student learning outcomes” (“U.S. Department of Education,” 2006).
In a January 2010 speech, Under Secretary of Education Matha Kanter reiterated the need for increasing the quality of the learning outcomes set by institutions of higher education. Kanter stressed the importance of institutions demonstrating that what students are learning reflects the needs and wants of society as well as the importance of “evidence-based solutions” (“U.S. Department of Education,” 2010).
· Program Improvement
Once an assessment is completed, the results are evaluated to determine how well student learning outcomes and program goals are being met, among other factors. In the final step of the assessment process, known as “closing the loop,” the results should be used as part of a reflection on the program’s mission, goals, outcomes, and processes. According to Kuh, Gonyea, and Rodriguez (2002), assessment results should be used “to evaluate whether a program still serves its intended purpose or whether it should be eliminated/adapted to meet the changing needs of students.”
Decisions about program improvement should not be made in a vacuum. Without data intentionally collected to measure outcomes, decisions about programmatic changes can be made without sound evidence to serve as a guide. A change that may seem necessary and beneficial may have no evidence-based support after reviewing the assessment results, resulting in unnecessary and potentially expensive alterations. For example, a department may decide not to make any changes to the services they offer to their students. However, reflection on the assessment results would have demonstrated that several of the services are no longer in line with the mission and goals of the department. This diverts resources from services that are relevant and useful to the students.
Evidence-based program improvement soundly answers questions such as:
· How well are student learning outcomes being met?
· Which outcomes need to be revised? Which programs/services/courses need to be revised to better fit the outcomes?
· Which programs/services/courses are no longer congruent with the mission and goals of the department?
Angelo, T. A. (1995, November). Reassessing (and defining) assessment. AAHE Bulletin, 48(2), 7-9.
G. D., Gonyea, R. M., & Rodriguez, D. P. (2002). The scholarly
assessment of student development. In T. W. Banta & Associates
(Eds.), Building a scholarship of assessment (pp. 100-127). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
J. W. (2003). The challenge of knowing what students know. Measurement:
Interdisciplinary Research and Perspectives,
1(1), e7-e11. Retrieved from http://bearcenter.berkeley.edu/measurement/docs/Pellegrino_1_1.pdf.
Department of Education. (2006). An action plan for higher
education. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/news/speeches
Department of Education. (2010). Under Secretary Martha
Kanter's remarks at the Association of American Colleges and
Universities annual meeting. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/news/speeches/2010/01/01212010.html.