Assessment Oversight Committee meeting 2/15/02 - handout 2
Assessment for CU-Boulder Units: A Brief Guide
"It has been said that universities have three undergraduate curricula: The one that appears in the catalog, the one that professors teach, and the one that students actually learn. To what degree does the curriculum asserted on paper or imagined by deans and dons accurately portray what goes on in the minds of students? Making the three curricula visible so they can be brought into register is the business of assessment..." (Southern Illinois University assessment web page). Few documents have produced as much thoughtful change in undergraduate education as has Ernest Boyer's Carnegie Commission report 'Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities', a document highly relevant to CU Boulder. Through authentic assessment, Boyer's scholarships of discovery, integration, and application may be effectively transformed into the scholarship of teaching.
One of the major trends in undergraduate education across the U.S. is broad recognition of the value of assessment activities which supplement traditional measures of student achievement such as course work and grades. Carefully constructed assessment tools, designed for specific student populations, frequently provide extremely valuable information to faculty with regard to their educational goals and objectives, information not obtainable by examining student transcripts. As a result of the 1999-2000 North Central Association (NCA) accreditation process for CU-Boulder, only one specific interim report was assigned to the campus: assessment. The Colorado Commission on Higher Education has also included assessment plans as part of the Quality Indicator System.
An Assessment Oversight Committee has been given the task of critiquing, supporting and re-vitalizing unit assessment efforts and of preparing a report to the NCA on progress and plans in this area of responsibility. Our premise is that outcomes assessment should, first and foremost, be useful to CU-Boulder and should help individual academic units
Assessment leads to curriculum change
As examples of student achievements here at CU illustrate, outcomes assessments help units affirm things in their curricula and courses that are going well. They also help identify things that are not going so well, and often suggest the kinds of changes that might be needed. About half of the CU-Boulder units doing serious outcomes assessment (and about 40% of all units reporting through the late 1990s) have identified areas for improvement. Seniors' performance in some areas may not be up to the faculty's expectations, or other aspects of the data may suggest changes that would strengthen the unit's undergraduate program.
Differences between units must be acknowledged
The diversity of CU-Boulder units is sometimes a problem in an enterprise like this one, but it is more often a benefit. Based on significant experience at assessment work on this campus spanning several years, we have learned several things.
The process would not have grown as well as it has without a certain amount of central monitoring, prodding, cajoling, assistance, and constructive feedback. However, the benefits of acknowledging units' differences and giving them control of their own outcomes assessment processes would be lost if there were too much central control. Keeping a balance requires constant attention.
Example Programs for Certain Degrees:
The following examples illustrate findings from a few units' most recent annual assessment reports. They are only examples--more details, and results from every unit, are in the individual unit summaries.
Designing, Improving, Implementing Assessment:
The methods, styles, strategies and aims for undergraduate student assessment can and should encompass a full spectrum of options: standardized national tests, special assignments embedded within senior capstone courses, portfolios and videotapes, specially designed competency exams, evaluation by faculty outside the unit or the Boulder campus, etc. For units who need to re-vitalize their assessment processes, we strongly encourage careful examination of the wide range of successful examples posted on the web. Members of the campus Assessment Oversight Committee can also serve as valuable sources of information.
Key elements for a successful assessment effort include (1) unit faculty buy-in plus a competent, conscientious unit assessment leader, (2) regularity of the process, (3) responsiveness to the results, and (4) adequate resources to accomplish the tasks at hand. Assessment goes to the heart of the academic enterprise: what have students accomplished academically and how well does that match what the unit states, for example, in the catalog? Clearly, faculty must control nearly all aspects of assessment for it is they who are charged with accomplishing academic achievement. If the faculty in a particular unit treat assessment as a make-work, unimportant enterprise, the practice will be a waste of time and other resources. On the other hand, those units with strong faculty commitment, demonstrate decided advantages and improvements in their programs. The effort needs to have stable, competent faculty leadership within each unit. When assessment results point up weaknesses, the unit faculty must identify actions to remedy those weaknesses, else the effort on assessment goes to waste. Assessment cannot be a sometime or irregularly implemented process and be effective. When assessment produces changes, the results of those changes also need to be assessed in a spirit of continual monitoring and follow up. Lastly, the campus administration must provide adequate resources to units to allow them to implement assessment plans and consequent actions, all aimed toward improved undergraduate education.
Some General Considerations and Difficulties Commonly Encountered in Senior Assessment Processes (Draft)
The PBA outcomes assessment website contains many links and connections to materials and models which may be useful to individual units as they work to determine the most appropriate and effective strategy for themselves. In very general terms here are some of the most common challenges.
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Last revision 05/10/02
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