Student Achievement Assessment Committee
Learning outcomes for undergraduate degrees in economics which include the BS in Economics (in the College of Business Administration) and the BA in Economics in the (College of Arts and Sciences) are listed in the university catalog. Upon completion of the degree in economics, students are expected to demonstrate:
a command of basic characteristics of the American and global economy by using this knowledge to critically evaluate economic outcomes;
a command of basic economic theory by using this theory to make predictions and to analyze alternative economic policy options;
the ability to communicate in both oral and written forms by presenting arguments and evidence clearly and concisely;
the ability to engage in and understand moral reasoning with respect to economic issues by recognizing the implicit value conflicts present in all economic policy debates;
the ability to engage in problem solving using basic economic theory;
the ability to engage in critical thinking as a part of the analysis of economic problems.
Students are required, in these programs, to take two particular courses that we see as fundamental to the degree, Intermediate Microeconomic Theory (ECON 302) and Intermediate Macroeconomic Theory (ECON 303). Assessment of the above outcomes occurs in these two classes and is based on performance on examinations. These courses are taken by students other than economics majors and as a consequence, part of our assessment effort is likely to include these non-economics students as part of the process. However, if these students are obtaining the objectives we have set out, there is some reason to think that our students will as well.
There is a second level of assessment we try to pursue, that is assessment of the Economics 200, 202, and 203 as general education classes. In addition, 202 and 203 are taken by every student in the college of business. However, these classes are now primarily taught by instructors who teach four sections per semester or in a large lecture format so that assessment becomes problematic. Writing assignments to assess the learning outcomes listed above simply are not feasible in these settings.
To assess the outcomes given above, we have the following process. In the principles classes and the intermediate level classes, we collect from each faculty giving essay tests or tests with essay questions, a copy of the median student in the class on the first test and then follow that student through the semester looking to see if there is growth or if they have developed deeper understandings as the semester passes. We are also looking to see if there is evidence that this student has mastered our learning outcomes to a degree we find satisfactory.
A few years ago, the Department, under the leadership of Dr. Browne, established some general education rubrics for assessment. This effort required faculty to come to some agreement on what we mean by some particular skills. Our experience was that while we agree at the level students should communicate clearly, when it comes time to identify what traits mark clear communication, there was disagreement. There was also disagreement when we tried to identify the traits in student papers. After some effort, we decided to parse down the list of things we are looking for to a shorter, more manageable list. The table below is driven by our learning outcomes, and we can make the following matches.
|Identify tradeoffs||Use chains of deductive reasoning to help understand||Use creative skills to frame question and|
|Explain significance of solution||Identify reasons in support of conclusion||Make explicit argument and provide evidence||Recognize value trade-off|
B1 is linked to learning outcomes 2 and 5
B2 is linked to learning outcomes 2 and 5
B3 is linked to learning outcome 5
B4 is linked to learning outcome 3
B5 is linked to learning outcome 4
B6 is linked to learning outcome 6
B7 is linked to learning outcomes 6 and 1
For this year, we have the following results.
For the principles level classes (largely 202 and 203), there are some positive outcomes and some outcomes where more effort needs to be expended. Students are strong at knowing the definitions, but do not always make use of the economic concepts. Trade off identification is relatively well done, but the deductive links are a problem. It seems that maturity is a part of the puzzle as the students in 203 are relatively stronger than those in 202 (202 is a prerequisite for 203). Relatively few classes ask students to make judgments and the performance widely varies. The ability to make judgments seems to grow over the semester, again reflecting some growth in maturity.
The process of reasoning from models is foreign to most students at this level, and the task is difficult. Thus putting pieces together into a reasoned argument is not something that students do well. They are weak both in moving from step to step in the argument and in providing reasons for the legitimacy of the next step. Both the inexperience in this task and the lack of maturity are likely to be contributing factors. This performance seems in line with the past, and is not seriously out of line with our expectations. It is not easy to see if there are substantial changes required to obtain these goals. If we combine our observations from last year with this year, it seems we are about at the same level as last year. These issues will bear continued monitoring.
At the intermediate level, greater weight is placed on the student's ability to carry out economic analysis. Some of the students assessed are not economics majors, and their performance might be somewhat weaker than our majors. The results of the assessment suggest that students are doing fairly well with the economic analysis. It is somewhat difficult to discern where the specific problems are, as the problems seem more specific to the student than to the class. Our overall view is that the Economics 302 and 303 are doing what they should do.
Based on these results, it is not clear that some change in curriculum needs to be contemplated. However, we will examine the assessment effort to try to more cleanly break apart the general education assessment from the economics program assessments.
Assessment of the Master of Arts in Economics
The learning outcomes for the Master of Arts in Economics include the following.
Construct and critique micro- and macroeconomic models related to public policy and derive meaningful implications from such models.
Analyze data using a variety of econometric techniques, and critically evaluate the results.
Understand and evaluate a broad spectrum of recent economic literature, especially that portion relevant to public policy.
Our assessment of these outcomes revolves around the comprehensive examinations. We give comprehensives in two broad areas, economic theory and economic policy. The theory comprehensives are aimed at seeing if the students have sufficient mastery of the economic concepts and problem solving processes which involves the first and third learning outcome. The policy comprehensive examines the ability of the student to apply quantitative and qualitative economic tools to economic problems, which focuses on the second and third learning outcome. The comprehensives are usually given every semester. We had the following results.
Theory 2 of 2 passed on the first attempt
Theory 3 of 4 passed on the first attempt
Generally speaking, the faculty grading the exams felt that the students were performing at an adequate level and that substantial changes in the curriculum were not needed. If there are questions, please let us know.
We had four students graduate in December, 2004 and one in May, 2005. The May graduate will be going on to a Ph.D. program. Three of the graduates in December are working, and one have returned to her native country, presumably for work.