What is Assessment
Assessment at NIU
This chapter provides a quick overview of assessment; including definitions, purposes, and the process of assessment. Further details of the assessment process can be found in subsequent chapters. As an introduction to the assessment process, select assessment definitions follow:
The systematic collection, review, and use of information about educational programs and support units undertaken for the purpose of improving student learning and development (Palumbo & Banta, 1999, p. 3).
The process of gathering information about students to measure some aspect of a program, department, or institution (Astin, 1991; Upcraft & Schuh, 1996).
The process of gathering and discussing information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what students know, understand, and can do with their knowledge as a result of their educational experiences; the process culminates when assessment results are used to improve subsequent learning (Huba & Freed, 2000, p. 8).
Assessment is putting into place a systematic process that will answer the following questions on a continuous and ongoing basis: 1) What are we trying to do and why? 2) What is my program supposed to accomplish? 3) How well are we doing it? 4) How do we know? 5) How do we use information to improve or celebrate success? 6) Do the improvements we make work? (Bresciani, 2002).
The process of assessment can provide welcome confirmation that students are learning what we are teaching, and practical guidance for adjusting our curricula. For these reasons, assessment can be viewed as a core strategy for documenting and improving educational quality within our classrooms, programs, and across the institution (Paradis, 2005).
Assessment shifts the focus to what students learn rather than what instructors teach. As suggested by the TIGER comic, the main purpose of assessment is to determine if, what, and how much learning has occurred.
The fundamental purpose of assessment is to verify and improve student learning at course, program, and institutional levels. Assessment provides numerous options to gather and discuss information from diverse sources to develop a deeper understanding of what students know and what they can do with their knowledge. This information can then be shared with students, faculty and staff, and stakeholders (Paradis, 2005, p. 3).
Other uses of assessment are to:
- Reinforce or emphasize the mission of an academic unit (Bresciani, 2002)
- Modify, shape, and improve programs and performance (Bresciani, 2002)
- Compare a program’s quality or value compared to the program’s previously defined principles (Bresciani, 2002)
- Inform planning, decision making, and policy discussions at the local, state, regional, and national level (Bresciani, 2002)
- Assist in the request of additional funds from the university and external community and the reallocation of resources (Bresciani, 2002)
- Assist in meeting accreditation requirements, models of best practices, and national benchmarks (Bresciani, 2002)
- Reflect on the attitudes and approach we take in improving teaching and learning (Bresciani, 2002)
The implementation of assessment strategies begins with an assessment plan. Assessment plans are linked to the purposes, mission, goals, and objectives of the university, as well as the specific college or program being assessed. Assessment plans generally have five components:
- Identify objectives and outcomes
- Establish methodologies to assess the achievement of outcomes
- Gather and analyze the evidence by implementing the methodologies
- Share the results of the analysis
- Make evidence-based improvements as needed.
Purpose and Mission Statements
When beginning an assessment plan, the purpose of the assessment is made explicit to others. Without a clear idea of what the assessment target is, it would be difficult to determine if learning has actually occurred. The purpose statement should describe what the academic program is, what it does, and for whom it does it. It should summarize any specific educational approach or philosophy and any important values. It should also clearly establish its relationship with both the college's and department’s mission statements. A student or stakeholder reading the statement should be able to identify how the program contributes to the education and careers of students and how it supports the department’s and college’s missions.
Goals and Objectives
The purpose of having goal statements in an assessment plan is to clearly communicate the direction and aspirations of the upcoming assessment. Commonly, goals are specified in relation to functions such as instruction, student learning, research, and service. Primary among program goals should be those pertaining to student learning.
Goals differ from objectives in that goals represent what the academic program is striving to achieve in the long-term, and tend to be written using broader and more inclusive language than objectives. Goals state what the academic program wants to accomplish or become over time. Performance objectives, on the other hand, flow from program goals. Objects are brief, clear statements of learning outcomes of instruction that are subsets of each program goal. Objectives use more precise terms and should focus on the students, rather than the curriculum.
To see more about program goals, visit the Implementation page.
In preparing an assessment plan, the data collection process needs to be determined. This involves selecting the methods and measures to assess each objective (for objectives, see prior section). Some objectives may be more important than others, so selecting the most important objective(s) to measure is imperative. When referring to methods and measures, method specifically means the type of data that will be collected (e.g., survey, exam, portfolio, capstone project, etc.) and measure specifically means the actual instrument used to collect the data. Both methods and measures are essential determinations for making assessment plans.
Instruments used to score student performance are often fall under the broad title of ‘rubrics’. There are several types of scoring instruments: Rubrics, Performance Checklists, and Checklists. Each instrument helps to standardize the assessment scoring process.
To learn more about the differences between rubric types, see the rubric section of the Implementation page.
Once data has been collected and scored, the results can be used for decision-making, strategic planning, program evaluation and program improvement. The success of an assessment plan ultimately rests on whether or not it provides the information needed to make informed decisions about a course’s or program’s future. Assessment findings must be usable and used for plotting the future of curriculum, this is referred to as the ‘feedback loop’. Results can inform decisions that in turn lead to new goals and objectives emerging for a given curricular program. It is important that the results be communicated and the information passed on to those who need it to inform program decision-making. Assessment results should never be used to lay blame on individuals, but rather should be communicated in ways that will lead to ever improving program quality.
NIU has several current assessment endeavors. To learn about each assessment, click each link below:
- Alumni Survey
- Annual Update
- Capstone Course Development
- Funding Opportunities
- New Faculty Forum
- University Writing Project
For opportunities to get involved in Assessment at NIU, see the following committees: