Five Steps to Improving Program-Level Assessment Practices

Student learning outcomes assessment can be defined in a lot of different ways, but Lisa R. Shibley, PhD., assistant vice president for Institutional Assessment and Planning at Millersville University, has a favorite definition. It’s from Assessment Clear and Simple: A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education by Barbara E. Walvoord and states that student learning outcomes assessment is “the systematic collection of information about student learning, using time, knowledge, expertise, and resources available in order to inform decisions about how to improve learning.”

Using that definition as a common starting point, Shibley led seminar participants through a five-step process for renewing program-level learning outcomes assessment.

Step 1: Create a team – Determining who to involve in the assessment process is a critical first step, and Shibley recommends creating a team that includes those who care about learning, faculty who need scholarship, both junior and senior faculty, and possibly students.

Once the team is assembled, you need to assign a point person to lead the team. You should also provide training, so that each member understands the process. Finally, given that participation on an assessment team is an additional responsibility to an already full faculty plate, it’s always a good idea to find a way to recognize and reward team members for their contributions.

Step 2: Identify issues, problems and needs – This is where you begin the conversation about assessment, clarifying assumptions along the way. Find out how faculty in your program define student learning outcomes assessment, and what they’re currently doing. Take the time to revisit the key elements of your assessment process, review prior reports, and determine specific strengths and challenges.

Step 3: Select opportunities – During this stage you want to prioritize issues for each phase of the assessment cycle. The cycle includes defining outcomes, establishing criteria, collecting evidence, interpreting results, and taking action.

Step 4: Develop solutions – Shibley uses a learning opportunities matrix to provide an action-plan framework for addressing the deficiencies and priorities identified through the previous steps. As you begin to develop solutions, it’s important to communicate to those outside of the team what you’ve discovered and how you plan to tackle each issue.

Step 5: Update the process – The final step of the assessment renewal process is the implementation phase, where you take everything you’ve learned about what needs to be improved in your assessment processes, and make it happen.

“It’s important to think about program-level learning outcomes assessment as much more than simply meeting the demands of accountability,” says Shibley. “It’s really about quality, and about focusing on student learning, and looking for strategies to help you improve student learning.”