To Make Assessment Manageable Keep it Simple and Be Flexible

Anyone with a 3-year-old knows one of their favorite words is “Why.” As it turns out, asking “why” is a good way to examine your assessment goals and how they align with your institution’s core values.

“My favorite assessment question is ‘Why’ and I ask it over and over again,” said Linda Suskie, vice president at the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

For example, consider the following questions?

  1. What knowledge, skills, competencies, and attributes does a successful student have? Why do you and your colleagues think these are important?
  2. Are you satisfied with your assessment results? Why or why not?

Keeping assessment sustainable requires this kind of persistent examination of student learning and how it can be improved. It can become an all-consuming, full-time job … for people who already have full-time jobs. In the recent online seminar, Moving Ahead with Learning Assessment, Suskie explained how simplicity and flexibility can go a long way in making assessment more manageable and therefore more accepted.

“The first thing you need to do to keep assessment sustainable is to keep things as simple as possible,” said Suskie. “Don’t try to assess everything all the time; focus on the really important goals. Also, I’ve never seen any rule that says you have to assess every single goal in every single course, program or gen. ed. course requirement, every single semester or term. It’s fine to develop a staggered schedule.”

While flexibility is often not the first word associated with assessment, Suskie said it’s actually an important component and warned against a growing trend she’s seeing in terms of highly rigid assessment requirements, noting that not every program should have to use a rubric with a five-point scale.

“The more rules you put in, the more resistance you’re going to get and the greater chance that you’re going to be forcing faculty and staff to fit square pegs into round holes,” she said. “So be flexible, and listen to faculty, and if they have a way to get the job done that’s not exactly how you envisioned, you need to be open to that.”

To make assessment more manageable, it also helps to synchronize the work that’s being done on the various levels – from the most common forms of assessment at the individual student level to broader institutional-level assessment – and look for where assessments may overlap and be able to give you information on more than one level. For example, if you have a capstone course in your program, the goals of the capstone course may be your program goals so that what students do in that capstone course may give you evidence of what students achieved across the whole program, Suskie said.