July 27, 2011

The Four Questions Every Assessment Report Should Answer

By: in Educational Assessment

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Of all the activities that go into educational assessment, ironically two of most rewarding also are two of the most overlooked: 1). sharing the results with stakeholders and 2). using the results to effect change.

After devoting so much time and energy to creating assessments, far too often what happens is someone takes the data that’s been gathered and compiles a dense, statistics-laden report that is difficult to find, read, or understand. Meanwhile everyone else turns their attention to more pressing matters; happy they finally got rid of that annoying pebble in their shoe.

Linda Suskie, a vice president of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and author of Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide, sees a better way to extract more meaning from your assessment efforts.

In the recent online seminar, Summarizing and Using Assessment Results, Suskie outlined specific strategies for communicating assessment results to the various internal and external stakeholders, as well as how to use the results to improve teaching and learning.

One of the ways you can communicate your assessment results effectively is to package the results in a way that’s easy to understand, including making use of charts rather than relying solely on narrative descriptions, using percentages, rounding numbers, and reorganizing results from highest to lowest. Suskie recommends then using the data to tell a story in such a way that your audience can readily see your program’s strengths and the areas that need improvement.

How you tell your story is up to you, so long as you tell it truthfully and accurately, Suskie says while noting the story should address the following four questions:

  1. How do you define a successful student?
  2. What’s the evidence that students meet your definition of success?
  3. Are you satisfied with your results? Why or why not?
  4. If you’re not satisfied, what could be the cause and what are you going to do about it?

In the end, the process of understanding assessment results can often lead to worthwhile reflections on learning goals, curriculum, teaching methods, support services, technology infrastructure, and the assessments themselves, Suskie says.

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