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Myths and Reality


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Assessment Myths? (but not in the folklore sense)

Assessment is a new thing Otis is doing and if we just hold our breath long enough, it will go away.

Assessment has always been a part of art and design educational practice. Formal and systematic assessment is a change and it’s not going anywhere despite our impressive lung capacity.

Our accreditor, the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) and the federal government are the most important and only reasons we assess.

The answer depends on what kind of institution we are.  WASC and the government definitely require it but the most important reason we assess should be because we want to improve our students’ learning.

Course grades are just fine as the only assessment indicator.   

Since course grades are just one big summary of the student’s performance in a class based on several grading criteria and may include non-learning factors, they often don’t have enough information to use as assessment to improve student learning. However, faculty can use assessment of student work to determine grades.

Assessment can reduce some of the important learning that happens in the classroom to a checklist that forces all students’ work to look the same.

If misused, there can be truth in this. There are some things that are not easily assessable, and assessment results are only as good as assessment criteria and methods. It requires really thoughtful planning and consideration of educational values. When a program has clear objectives, good assessment actually allows for a variety of student responses to the task.

Collecting and archiving student work for program assessment requires student consent.

Most assessment is not research (doesn’t test theories but informs practice) and does not require student consent so long as the work is not used for research (program assessment doesn’t meet that definition), and does not violate FERPA if all personally identifiable information is removed. FERPA does allow disclosure of personally identifiable information of student without written consent if that disclosure is to an accrediting organization or the other college officials and faculty.

Assessment is an infringement on the academic freedom and faculty autonomy.

Assessment of student learning is a tool for the faculty to improve student learning and a means for the faculty, students, and staff to engage in a meaningful dialogue about the student learning experience. Faculty members exercise academic freedom in the content, delivery, and oftentimes assessment methods, but since the institution is externally responsible to the government, accreditation agencies, parents, and potential students, assessment is an academic responsibility.

Assessment is about finding problems with the faculty.

Assessment is not focused on the individual and it’s not about fault finding. It’s about what we really care about and what’s important in our courses and programs, clearly communicating that internally and externally, finding out what’s working and what’s not, and not by guessing. It’s also an opportunity to showcase quality and excellence in the programs, market programs, and justify a program’s value.

The best way to carry out assessment is to make someone in the provost’s office do it. If that doesn’t work, assign it to one person because we know that too many cooks spoil the assessment broth.

While knowledgeable people spearheading or anchoring assessment efforts in a department or program is always helpful, it is really, really, really important for all faculty to be in some way involved since they are the ones who do the teaching and assessing of student learning.

Assessment just takes away time from good teaching.

Assessment has always been an important part of good teaching. It’s about what works and what doesn’t.

We have to learn lots of pedagogical jargon to do good assessment.

Although as professionals in higher education we should become familiar with common terms, assessment does not require speaking another language or in tongues.

Random samples of large student groups are not good a good way to do assessment.

Random sampling is an efficient and generally reliable way to assess so long as it is truly random and unbiased and representative of the student population.

We need to assess every outcome of every student every year.

WSCUC does not require that we do that (and we couldn’t if we wanted to). Picking 2-3 learning outcomes that are important to a program each year is more productive over an assessment cycle. They do require that we have a plan for systematic assessment on a regular cycle.

Only quantifiable direct assessment is reliable and valid. Student surveys, focus groups, etc. (indirect, qualitative assessments) don’t count.

Surveys, focus groups, etc. are indirect measures of students learning (perception of, rather than actual learning). They are generally not sufficient alone, but can be very useful when used along with direct measures.

You can’t really measure all the really important things that happen in a classroom like what goes on in the teaching/learning relationship between the instructor and student, so why bother with learning outcomes?

There’s no doubt that certain things that happen in the classroom are not easily (if at all) measured. However, there are many dimensions of learning that can be measured including higher order skills.

If we do not engage in meaningful, systematic, regular, and evidence based assessment we could lose accreditation and we would have to close down because students wouldn’t be able to get federal financing, loans, etc.

That one is not a myth!