Improving academic programs depends upon gathering relevant data that relates to the learning outcome(s) and will provide evidence of students’ learning. Middle States requires that program-level assessment includes at least two measures of assessment, one of which must be a “direct” measure of student learning, (Departments may include either two direct measures or one direct and one indirect measure.)
Direct measures provide observable and compelling evidence about what students have and have not learned. It is usually in the form of a product or performance such as thesis, capstone project, evaluation of a student performance or art work graded using a rubric; or scores on a multiple choice and/or essay tests, such as final examinations in key courses, qualifying and comprehensive examinations, accompanied by test “blueprints” describing what the tests assess.
Indirect measures tap into or serve as proxies to demonstrate that learning has occurred. Examples include course grades, responses on student satisfaction surveys, questions from course evaluations related to student learning, or placement rate of graduates of the program.
One good strategy is to develop and use a rubric to both plan effective assignments and evaluate students’ performance or the learning students will be demonstrating. It includes a set of criteria that lays out the specific expectation for an assignment. Rubrics include clear descriptions of performance over a continuum of quality, thus dividing an assignment into its component parts. The advantage of using descriptors is that they usually provide descriptions of what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable levels of performance for each of the criteria.
Having descriptors for different levels of performance help students understand the differences between what is “acceptable,” what is “exceptional,” and what is “not acceptable” performances. Descriptors provide students with concrete information about what is expected of them and how to obtain a particular score or grade. They help students see the possibilities of what quality entails, which when shared ahead of time can serve to motivate students to perform well. In addition, they help identify students’ strengths and weaknesses. Rather than judging the students’ performance, the rubric describes the performance, which can then be used for providing feedback and improving teaching.
The most widely referenced and highly used rubrics are the VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) rubrics, available for free on the Association of American Colleges and University website. The set of 16 rubrics cover essential learning outcomes such as critical thinking, written communication, problem solving, oral communication, oral communication, and teamwork, to name a few. While the rubrics are designed for areas included in an undergraduate liberal arts education, they are adaptable for use in both upper-level undergraduate education and graduate education.
Questions to consider when developing assessment measures:
- What measures should be used to assess student learning? Consider using an assignment, exam, or project already embedded in the curriculum as your measure.
- What evaluation tools or approaches does the program already have in place, and what information do they provide regarding how well students are achieving program and course goals and outcomes?
- How useful are the existing assessment findings? How is the measure related to the learning outcome?
- Do the tools include direct or actual measures of student learning?
- Do they provide information on why students have or have not learned?
Questions to consider when implementing the assessment plan:
- When will the assessment measure be administered and who will be responsible for collecting the data?
- How many students will be participating in the assessment? Is it a sufficient number to provide relevant and valid information about what students are learning?