Student Achievement Assessment Committee
Pitfalls in Assessment Reports
Summaries of Assessment Accomplishments are most useful when they list clearly stated and measurable learning outcomes, describe the measures used to assess the outcomes, report and interpret the findings, and specify the actions have been planned or executed based on the assessment findings. They are nearly useless when they exhibit any of these three pitfalls:
Assigning Outcomes to Courses: A repeated pattern in many assessment accomplishment reports is the identification of a particular course intended to foster a particular learning outcome. This may make sense for content objectives. However, even there, this approach isolates learning into course "silos", and works against the pedagogical goal of integrating knowledge and skill across courses and departments. Furthermore, this approach tends to direct people's thinking toward familiar ground, and in that process they miss the point of assessment at the level of programs. Most approaches that assign outcomes to courses also identify traditional methods of evaluation (tests, grades) with assessment. If the learning outcome can be learned and demonstrated satisfactorily in a single course, then assigning the outcome to a course makes sense, but most learning outcomes are general enough that they cannot be treated in such isolation. In general, embedding program assessments within courses is a good strategy, and it will usually involve a series of courses.
Grades as Assessment: If students simply get a grade, and that is all that is recorded by the instructor, then no assessment has occurred. What additional feedback will be provided to the students? Will that feedback redirect students' efforts in a way that will improve her or his learning in the remainder of the course? More to the point in the context of program assessment, what information will the grades reveal about the course? Is information about student learning gathered in a way that will be useful to curriculum redesign or improvement of pedagogy?
Bureaucratic Compliance: The grid has been filled in. The same response has been cut and pasted, over and over, into every cell in a column. Often the standard, repeated response is a general comment, one that could indicate action that has taken place or action that is merely conceivable. The information content of the response grid is very low. Such an approach is a waste of all our time. Somehow, we must encourage people not to waste their time in this impressively unproductive way!
The Good News: Program assessment leads to more effective learning envrionments. The frequency of these three pitfalls has fallen dramatically between the 1996-97 and the 1997-98 reporting cycles, from about 40% of the reports in the first cycle showing one or more of the pitfalls to near zero in the most recent cycle. Feedback matters.
Originally posted, June, 1998