Assessment is designed to demonstrate the institution’s commitment to continuous improvement. It is not just a reaction to a pending SACS-COC reaccreditation review.
Good SLAPs will be manageable, believable, sustainable and useful.
Manageable: Not every student’s performance must be assessed (a sample of students may suffice).
Believable: Programs should not promise more in their student learning outcmes than they can reasonable expect undegraduates to complete.
Sustainable: Programs should not be overly ambitious in targeting goals and outcomes. Four to six goals with 2-4 student learning outcomes each can be maintained for years without undue strain on any unit.
Useful: Programs should target goals and outcomes that help measure their success in delivering their primary programs
Not every student learning outcome must be assessed each year (put on a rotating schedule).
The overriding question in assessment is: how well is your program helping students learn this concept or skill? If students are not meeting expectations, we will want to know how the program will change to improve student outcomes. We are not interested in the performance of individual students.
Most accrediting bodies, including SACS-COC, do not specify what content we must teach, how we must teach it, or now we measure achievement of an outcome (program or learning). They leave it to the individual school/program to determine what’s critical for their students to know. But these accrediting bodies do ask us to periodically check that what we say we’re teaching to our students is what our students are actually learning.
A final course grade does not count as an acceptable student learning outcome. Grades are composed of many elements (e.g., attendance, participation) that do not demonstrate student mastery of a concept. In the same way, an entire test or portfolio should not be used as a summary evaluation. (Individual test questions may be examined for outcomes. Portfolios can be evaluated on a matrix to help students know where they are and are not meeting learning goals.
In some, but not all, disciplines, professional associations and/or national organizations of which the academic unit is a member, or to which the unit’s mission is aligned, or by whom the unit is accredited, may have promulgated standards of learning that may serve as guides to the unit’s determination of student learning outcomes. In these cases, the unit should ascertain that its goals and outcomes are sufficiently aligned with such standards to which it wishes to be held accountable.
Academic units will determine the processes, tools and mechanisms they employ to measure student learning. Regardless of the procedures or instruments choses, the quality of an assessment will be judged according to the extent to which it contributes useful data to the decision-making process of the unit when making program improvements.