Faculty Focus


Getting a Balanced Picture of Student Learning

From local and external standards to norm-referenced and value-added benchmarks, to name just a few, there is no shortage of educational assessment options to use. The question everyone wants answered, however, is ‘Which one is the best?’

“Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and each taken by itself gives a somewhat incomplete picture,” says Linda Suskie, a vice president at the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. “Multiple perspectives are needed to get the most balanced picture of student learning.”

During the recent online seminar How Good is Good Enough? Setting Benchmarks or Standards, Suskie walked participants through a series of assessment scenarios, and identified the strengths and weaknesses of each standard.

For example, value-added benchmarks are intuitively appealing because they show student improvement. They’ve also received a fair amount of favorable attention of late. But, Suskie says, value-added benchmarks also carry drawbacks that have led some to question their relevance. For one thing, employers are more interested in competencies than improvement. Plus it’s hard to get accurate information due to student transfers, and in some cases it’s not easy to determine who or what is even responsible for the improvement.

Suskie also provided detailed guidance on how to set performance standards at both the course and program level. To do this she recommends researching standards set by disciplinary associations and peer programs or institutions, as well as seeking input from employers, students, and faculty.

Once you’ve made an informed and defensible decision regarding the types of standards you will use, you’re not done yet. Assessment is an ongoing process and you need to revisit your standards regularly to ensure you’re able to demonstrate continued accountability and improvement, she says.