Creating a Campus Culture That Values Assessment

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that resistance to educational assessment comes from almost as many different sources as there are assessment tools, but in the end the reasons usually all boil down to three main issues:

  1. Lack of understanding of the value and importance of assessment
  2. Lack of resources to engage in assessment
  3. Fear of change and risk taking

In a recent online seminar, Keys to a Culture of Assessment: Value and Respect, Linda Suskie, vice president at the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, provided strategies for overcoming resistance to assessment, and the role of campus leaders in ensuring assessment efforts and achievements are valued.

“If your chief academic officer, or in some cases your president, is on board with assessment … understands what it is all about and understands the value beyond accreditation, that’s when assessment really happens and really permeates the campus culture,” said Suskie, while encouraging administrators to demonstrate this commitment by ensuring faculty have the time, infrastructure, and skills necessary to tackle assessment initiatives.

In order to create a culture that values assessment, Suskie recommends the following:

Value Teaching and Learning
Frame assessment discussions within the context of teaching and learning, because that’s what faculty care about most. Start the conversation by asking such questions as:

  • Why do we teach?
  • What do we most want students to learn?
  • Why those things and not the others?
  • How do we help students learn those things?
  • How do we know they’re learning it?

Value Innovation and Collaboration

  • Value, respect, and reward efforts to improve teaching by giving faculty “the freedom to fail.”
  • Regard assessment results as evidence of teaching effectiveness.
  • Encourage assessment as a form of scholarship.
  • Encourage cross-departmental collaborations and the sharing of the lessons learned from past innovations.

Value Campus History, Culture, Values and People

  • Embrace campus values and use those core values to drive assessment initiatives.
  • Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach, but give departments, schools, colleges leeway to assess in a way that aligns best to the values of their disciplines.
  • Understand and address root cause(s) of resistance to assessment on your campus.
  • Learn from and build on past experiences … the good and the bad.

Promote, Facilitate and Value Assessment Efforts

  • Create reward and incentive programs to engage faculty in the assessment process (e.g. a certificate of recognition signed by the Provost costs very little to create yet makes overworked faculty feel appreciated).
  • Establish a mini-grant program that’s eligible to any faculty who were not happy with their assessment results and want to make improvements.
  • Use assessment results to inform important decisions on important goals.
  • Celebrate and publicize positive results; giving special recognition to those involved.

According to Suskie, despite the sometimes strong resistance to “the A word,” assessment is simply making sure students learn what we really want them to learn, and the process can be viewed as a continual cycle of establishing learning goals, creating learning opportunities, assessing learning, and using results to reflect on your practices.

“Faculty who love to teach have been doing this instinctively,” she said. “We’re simply asking them to do it a little more systematically and document what they’re doing.”