Good Practice Guidelines

American Association for Higher Education

Association of American Colleges and Universities

North Central Association-Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

Study Findings Inform Best Practices

A study by the American Productivity and Quality Center yielded 11 key findings for best practices in Educational Assessment. These findings come from the Consortium Benchmarking Study Best-in-class report.

Consortium Benchmarking Study

Code of Professional Responsibilities in Educational Measurement

National Council on Measurement in Education Code of Professional Responsibilities in Educational Measurement. Outlines responsibilities of those who:

Examples of Best Practices

The Association of American Colleges and Universities has compiled some applied examples of best practice campus assessments for the following:

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Good Practice Guidlines

Educational agencies and Academic researchers have come up with several ‘good practice’ guidelines for assessing student learning. Some of the most pervasive sets of guidelines are:

American Association for Higher Education: Nine Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning

These nine principles were developed under the auspices of the AAHE Assessment Forum with support from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education with additional support for publication and dissemination from the Exxon Education Foundation.

  1. Educational Values: The assessment of student learning begins with educational values.
  2. Multidimensional & Longitudinal: Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over time.
  3. Clear Purpose: Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes.
  4. Outcome Related: Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the experiences that lead to those outcomes.
  5. Ongoing Process: Assessment works best when it is ongoing, not episodic. Assessment is a process whose power is cumulative.
  6. Educational Community Involvement: Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved.
  7. Stems from Important Issues: Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about.
  8. One Part of the Larger Whole: Assessment is most likely to lead to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change.
  9. Meeting Responsibilities: Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public.

View more detailed explanations of each guideline.

Authors: Alexander W. Astin; Trudy W. Banta; K. Patricia Cross; Elaine El-Khawas; Peter T. Ewell; Pat Hutchings; Theodore J. Marchese; Kay M. McClenney; Marcia Mentkowski; Margaret A. Miller; E. Thomas Moran; Barbara D. Wright

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Association of American Colleges and Universities: Elements of Good Assessment Practice

These eight elements describe emerging consensus among education leaders (as found by the Association of American Colleges and Universities) towards liberal learning outcomes that are essential for baccalaureate graduates.

  1. The use of both formative assessment, for the purpose of giving feedback and making improvement, and summative assessment, for the purpose of identifying levels of attainment.
  2. Multiple methods that include both qualitative and quantitative evidence.
  3. Authentic methods that arise from students’ actual assignments and learning experiences, which might be both curricular and co-curricular.
  4. Assessments that are developmental, so that students and others can observe progress toward valued outcomes, perhaps through the use of portfolios.
  5. A focus on higher, more sophisticated knowledge and capacities rather than on more easily measured basic skills.
  6. Faculty ownership of not just the education but also, because it is inherent to the learning process itself, the assessment of students; whether they teach major or general education courses, faculty need to create, implement, and sustain the program to educate and assess students.
  7. Assessment as continuous, systematic, and multi-dimensional.
  8. An ongoing, systematic process for using assessment results to improve teaching, learning, and the curriculum.

These eight elements can be found in Chapter 3 of:

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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North Central Association-Commission on Institutions of Higher Education’s Hallmarks of Successful Programs to Assess Student Academic Achievement

NCA’s guidelines come from their 1994-1996 Handbook of Accreditation and provide suggestions for creating a good assessment program.

  1. Flows from the institution’s mission
  2. Has a conceptual framework
  3. Has faculty ownership/responsibility
  4. Has institution-wide support
  5. Uses multiple measures
  6. Provides feedback to students and the institution
  7. Is cost-effective
  8. Does not restrict or inhibit goals of access, equity, and diversity established by the institution
  9. Leads to improvement
  10. Includes a process for evaluating the assessment program

Since the 1994 release of these hallmarks, the NCA’s handbook has been updated without inclusions of these hallmarks. However, the third handbook addition (2003) includes NCA’s current position statement on assessment which continues to advocate the key role of assessment in improving student learning.

Additional information can be found at:

Higher Learning Commission. (2003). Handbook of Accreditation, 3rd ed. Retrieved July 08, 2008 from: http://www.ncahlc.org/download/Handbook03.pdf

Hubba, M., & Freed, J. (2000). Learner-centered assessment on college campuses: Shifting focus from teaching to learning. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

North Central Association – Commission on Institutions of Higher Education. (1994). Handbook of Accreditation (1994-1996). Chicago: North Central Association.

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Study Findings Inform Best Practices

American Productivity and Quality Center: Consortium Benchmarking Study Best-in-class Report

In 1997, the American Productivity and Quality Center and the University of Maryland University College, conducted a benchmark study to investigate best practices and key trends in assessing learning outcomes. Forty-three institutions participated in the study, which yielded 11 key findings:

  1. Good assessment plans are strategic in nature. They clarify the purposes of the assessment activities and tie each to the organization's mission, vision, and key goals.
  2. Widespread involvement of all stakeholders, established early and maintained over time, yields an organizational culture that embraces assessment.
  3. The adoption and implementation of an assessment plan is best begun promptly when the need is recognized and then allowed to evolve slowly. It is important to balance the need for buy-in with the time required for a sound implementation.
  4. In-depth analysis and periodic review of the needs and interests of internal and external stakeholders drive the choice of which learning outcomes to assess and how they are assessed.
  5. The use of multiple methods of assessment can enhance reliability. Additionally, to ensure that a process is valid and measures what it is intended to measure, each activity and instrument should be tied to its purpose and the strategy for achiev­ing that purpose.
  6. Integrating assessment with other ongoing performance improvement efforts within an organization enhances the long-term viability of the assessment pro­gram and its usefulness to the overall organization.
  7. Successful organizations take a decentralized approach to assessment, pushing responsibility and ownership to those on the front lines.
  8. Assessment is integral to learning and most effective when included as a respon­sibility for each member of the organization, as opposed to being an add-on effort.
  9. The primary purpose of obtaining and reporting assessment findings is to improve the organization and, in particular, its employees' and students' learning. Accordingly, the findings are best used in non-punitive ways.
  10. Educating those who will use the assessment data is the key to shifting the focus of assessment from the data to an overall process.
  11. Best-practice organizations continually communicate the assessment activities and results to their constituents.

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Code of Professional Responsibilities in Educational Measurement

Responsibilities of those who Administer Assessments  

Access the National Council on Measurement in Education and their entire ethics code (pdf version).

(Excerpt from Section 4 of Ethics Code)

Those who prepare individuals to take assessments and those who are directly or indirectly involved in the administration of assessments as part of the educational process, including teachers, administrators, and assessment personnel, have an important role in making sure that the assessments are administered in a fair and accurate manner. Persons who prepare others for, and those who administer, assessments have a professional responsibility to:

4.1  Inform the examinees about the assessment prior to its administration, including its purposes, uses, and consequences; how the assessment information will be judged or scored; how the results will be kept on file; who will have access to the results; how the results will be distributed; and examinees' rights before, during, and after the assessment.

4.2  Administer only those assessments for which they are qualified by education, training, licensure, or certification.

4.3  Take appropriate security precautions before, during, and after the administration of the assessment.

4.4  Understand the procedures needed to administer the assessment prior to administration.

4.5  Administer standardized assessments according to prescribed procedures and conditions and notify appropriate persons if any nonstandard or delimiting conditions occur.

4.6  Not exclude any eligible student from the assessment.

4.7  Avoid any conditions in the conduct of the assessment that might invalidate the results.

4.8  Provide for and document all reasonable and allowable accommodations for the administration of the assessment to persons with disabilities or special needs.

4.9  Provide reasonable opportunities for individuals to ask questions about the assessment procedures or directions prior to and at prescribed times during the administration of the assessment.

4.10  Protect the rights to privacy and due process of those who are assessed.

4.11  Avoid actions or conditions that would permit or encourage individuals or groups to receive scores that misrepresent their actual levels of attainment.

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Responsibilities of Those Who Score Assessments

 Access the National Council on Measurement in Education and their entire ethics code (pdf version).

(Excerpt from Section 5 of Ethics Code)

The scoring of educational assessments should be conducted properly and efficiently so that the results are reported accurately and in a timely manner. Persons who score and prepare reports of assessments have a professional responsibility to:

5.1  Provide complete and accurate information to users about how the assessment is scored, such as the reporting schedule, scoring process to be used, rationale for the scoring approach, technical characteristics, quality control procedures, reporting formats, and the fees, if any, for these services.

5.2  Ensure the accuracy of the assessment results by conducting reasonable quality control procedures before, during, and after scoring.

5.3  Minimize the effect on scoring of factors irrelevant to the purposes of the assessment.

5.4  Inform users promptly of any deviation in the planned scoring and reporting service or schedule and negotiate a solution with users.

5.5  Provide corrected score results to the examinee or the client as quickly as practicable should errors be found that may affect the inferences made on the basis of the scores.

5.6  Protect the confidentiality of information that identifies individuals as prescribed by state and federal laws.

5.7  Release summary results of the assessment only to those persons entitled to such information by state or federal law or those who are designated by the party contracting for the scoring services.

5.8  Establish, where feasible, a fair and reasonable process for appeal and rescoring the assessment.

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Responsibilities of Those Who Interpret, Use, and Communicate Assessment Results  

Access the National Council on Measurement in Education and their entire ethics code (pdf version).

(Excerpt from Section 6 of Ethics Code)

The interpretation, use, and communication of assessment results should promote valid inferences and minimize invalid ones. Persons who interpret, use, and communicate assessment results have a professional responsibility to:

6.1  Conduct these activities in an informed, objective, and fair manner within the context of the assessment's limitations and with an understanding of the potential consequences of use.

6.2  Provide to those who receive assessment results information about the assessment, its purposes, its limitations, and its uses necessary for the proper interpretation of the results.

6.3  Provide to those who receive score reports an understandable written description of all reported scores, including proper interpretations and likely misinterpretations.

6.4  Communicate to appropriate audiences the results of the assessment in an understandable and timely manner, including proper interpretations and likely misinterpretations.

6.5  Evaluate and communicate the adequacy and appropriateness of any norms or standards used in the interpretation of assessment results.

6.6  Inform parties involved in the assessment process how assessment results may affect them.

6.7  Use multiple sources and types of relevant information about persons or programs whenever possible in making educational decisions.

6.8  Avoid making, and actively discourage others from making, inaccurate reports, unsubstantiated claims, inappropriate interpretations, or otherwise false and misleading statements about assessment results.

6.9  Disclose to examinees and others whether and how long the results of the assessment will be kept on file, procedures for appeal and rescoring, rights examinees and others have to the assessment information, and how those rights may be exercised.

6.10  Report any apparent misuses of assessment information to those responsible for the assessment process.

6.11  Protect the rights to privacy of individuals and institutions involved in the assessment process.

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Responsibilities of Those Who Educate Others about Assessment

Access the National Council on Measurement in Education and their entire ethics code (pdf version).

(Excerpt from Section 7 of Ethics Code)

The process of educating others about educational assessment, whether as part of higher education, professional development, public policy discussions, or job training, should prepare individuals to understand and engage in sound measurement practice and to become discerning users of tests and test results. Persons who educate or inform others about assessment have a professional responsibility to:

7.1  Remain competent and current in the areas in which they teach and reflect that in their instruction.

7.2  Provide fair and balanced perspectives when teaching about assessment.

7.3  Differentiate clearly between expressions of opinion and substantiated knowledge when educating others about any specific assessment method, product, or service.

7.4  Disclose any financial interests that might be perceived to influence the evaluation of a particular assessment product or service that is the subject of instruction.

7.5  Avoid administering any assessment that is not part of the evaluation of student performance in a course if the administration of that assessment is likely to harm any student.

7.6  Avoid using or reporting the results of any assessment that is not part of the evaluation of student performance in a course if the use or reporting of results is likely to harm any student.

7.7  Protect all secure assessments and materials used in the instructional process.

7.8  Model responsible assessment practice and help those receiving instruction to learn about their professional responsibilities in educational measurement.

7.9  Provide fair and balanced perspectives on assessment issues being discussed by policymakers, parents, and other citizens.

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Responsibilities of Those Who Evaluate Educational Programs and Conduct Research on Assessments

Access the National Council on Measurement in Education and their entire ethics code (pdf version).

(Excerpt from Section 8 of Ethics Code)

Conducting research on or about assessments or educational programs is a key activity in helping to improve the understanding and use of assessments and educational programs. Persons who engage in the evaluation of educational programs or conduct research on assessments have a professional responsibility to:

8.1  Conduct evaluation and research activities in an informed, objective, and fair manner.

8.2  Disclose any associations that they have with authors, test publishers, or others involved with the assessment and refrain from participation if such associations might affect the objectivity of the research or evaluation.

8.3  Preserve the security of all assessments throughout the research process as appropriate.

8.4  Take appropriate steps to minimize potential sources of invalidity in the research and disclose known factors that may bias the results of the study.

8.5  Present the results of research, both intended and unintended, in a fair, complete, and objective manner.

8.6  Attribute completely and appropriately the work and ideas of others.

8.7  Qualify the conclusions of the research within the limitations of the study.

8.8  Use multiple sources of relevant information in conducting evaluation and research activities whenever possible.

8.9  Comply with applicable standards for protecting the rights of participants in an evaluation or research study, including the rights to privacy and informed consent.

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Examples of Best Practices

Comprehensive Mathematics Project: Saint Mary’s College  

Assessment for seniors in mathematics at Saint Mary’s is done primarily through the Senior Comprehensive Project. Each student undertakes a semester-long independent study project under the direction of a faculty advisor. Two hour-long preliminary reports are given to the entire seminar group of seniors (seven or eight) doing this project, and everyone in attendance completes a comment form after the talk. The instructor reviews these forms and returns them to the student with additional comments. The student writes a final paper (usually 25-30 pages) that is read by three faculty members and makes a public oral presentation with questioning by a faculty panel. Students are expected to be able to answer questions about any mathematics they have studied that is relevant to the topic of their independent study. In this way, the mathematics faculty emphasizes synthesis and independent learning in the senior year.

In addition to knowledge and abilities in the area of mathematics, the general education outcomes most directly involved in this senior project are those dealing with oral and written communication, clear thinking about complex problems, and the ability to learn independently. Lower-level mathematics courses reinforce the development of these abilities by including writing assignments in every course, and by giving feedback to students on the precision and style of their writing. Oral presentations are also included. Upper-level mathematics courses require the foundations developed in the first two years. Synthesis of the material—connecting the pieces presented in class and recognizing the big picture, including relationships to other parts of the undergraduate experience—is accomplished by individuals and also by the group. As students write papers dealing with a sequence of technical issues, they are expected to provide connections between ideas. And as students progress through the major, they are expected to work more and more independently.

The entire mathematics department is involved in these projects. Every student has an advisor, and a team of three faculty members reads the final paper and then asks questions during the oral presentation. The instructor for the senior seminar group sits on each review panel, and every faculty member in the department serves on at least two of these panels each year. At the end of the presentation, the seminar instructor conveys to the student via letter the judgment of his or her performance. When all the projects for a particular year have been concluded, the department faculty meet as a whole to assess the experience and propose any needed changes.

Following Excert from:

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Honors Capstone: Hampton University

The Honors Capstone at Hampton University is designed to provide an opportunity for students to synthesize their undergraduate experience. In the Capstone Seminar, students discuss research methodology while doing an in-depth study of some topic of interest. Two products are required - a report on the results of the study and an Honors Portfolio.

For the independent study, the student must select a topic that is not directly related to his or her major. Because this work will be done independently, each student prepares a work schedule and sets the time for presentation, subject to the professor’s approval. The student is required to make an oral presentation of the project using appropriate technology to enhance the presentation.

The Honors Portfolio consists of a minimum of three and a maximum of six pieces of work that span the student’s period of study at Hampton. Among these must be at least one piece of writing that involves research. The work in the portfolio need not be all written work. It may include video or audiotapes, art works, computer programs, or any other work that the student can successfully relate to course objectives. There must be a written prologue to the portfolio that explains why each piece is included.

In order to graduate with Honors College endorsement, a student must demonstrate the following:

  • The ability to present ideas and communicate effectively in writing
  • The ability to speak effectively
  • The ability to analyze and synthesize a broad range of material
  • The ability to apply research methods to a chosen topic
  • The ability to reflect on experiences

The capstone research project and the Honors Portfolio are evaluated with these five criteria in mind. Each student chooses a committee of three people, two members of the faculty and one peer, to evaluate both the independent study product and the Honors Portfolio. This committee reviews and critiques these products and also the public oral presentation and defense of them.

The Capstone Seminar is designed as a community of learners that discusses, makes suggestions, provides feedback, and supports its members so there is a fruitful combination of individual and group dimensions to the work of the class. On the one hand, students have to take responsibility for individual research but, on the other hand, they do so with the support of a community. Furthermore, since the topic for the project is outside the student’s academic major, each student selects a mentor who has expertise in the field of that topic and receives guidance from that mentor, thus widening the range of faculty contributions to the Honors Capstone.

Following Excert from:

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Independent Research in Biology: King’s College

The Senior Integrated Assessment in Biological Research at King’s College differs from a typical laboratory course in that there is no designated topic or laboratory project. Students must decide on an appropriate topic based on their previous learning. There is likewise no pre-designed protocol for carrying out the project, so students must design their own. Of perhaps greatest significance in this approach is that students must, therefore, continuously resolve problems in the course of doing the project.

An appropriate topic is one for which testable hypotheses can be generated. With guidance from a faculty member, the student then devises and conducts original and independent research that may provide results relevant to these hypotheses. These results are communicated in both written and oral form, with the expectation that these communications conform to the conventions of invited presentations at major conferences in the field of biology.

The general education program at King’s College aims to develop seven skills in each student, skills that are conceived as transferable to any major field: critical thinking and problem solving, effective writing, technology competency, effective oral communication, quantitative reasoning, library and information literacy, and moral reasoning. As students progress from semester to semester through their undergraduate experience, these skills are reinforced and developed in both general education and major courses. Thus, the student who begins the culminating research project in biology has been rehearsing the skills required to complete it successfully all through his or her course of studies.

Two other assessment exercises help prepare students for the challenges of the independent research project. Biology majors maintain a portfolio of their work in the major, and they are given frequent feedback on the contents of their portfolios by faculty advisors. There is also a sophomore- or junior-level “Diagnostic Project” that requires an oral and written report on a smaller scale than that of the senior independent research, but emphasizes the same transferable skills.

In the particular case of the senior research project in biology, students are provided with a detailed list of the criteria by which their work will be judged. This list covers the oral report, the written report, critical thinking, use of the library and information technology, and the various components of quality research in the field of biology.

Following Excert from:

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Interactive Qualifying Project: Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)

WPI takes very seriously its responsibility to prepare its graduates to be problem solvers in an interdisciplinary and international context. In 1970, the institution adopted a project-based structure for its undergraduate programs, which consist mainly of engineering, science, and management areas. The first project, called the Sufficiency, is an independent study in some area of arts and humanities that rounds out and integrates the liberal arts dimension of the degree. The second, called the Major Qualifying Project, constitutes a senior capstone experience in the student’s major.

The third, called the Interactive Qualifying Project, is a model of good practice in integrating general education and the major. A team of students completes this project, and it focuses on a complex technological problem as well as on the human and social context in which the problem and any potential solution exist. Students usually do this project, which is worth three courses, in the junior year. Its aim is to develop in students the ability to frame, study, and solve problems in ways that are technologically sound but also appropriate to the human, social, economic, and environmental context. Teamwork, communication skills, and integrative thinking figure significantly in these endeavors.

In addition to these project requirements, there is a strong international dimension to the degree. WPI has fourteen Project Centers in places such as London, Venice, Bangkok, Zimbabwe, and Australia. Students who do their Interactive Qualifying Project overseas must also add intercultural sensitivity to the list of competencies to be demonstrated.

WPI also recently established the Worcester Community Project Center to bring students living on campus the experience of an off-campus learning environment. Within their project parameters, student teams work with community groups to gain experience in how local governments operate, and the sponsoring agencies receive a useful product from the team’s analysis of the agency’s issue.

There is a well-organized process for evaluating student performance in the Interactive Qualifying Project. Teams of faculty are recruited in the summer for paid positions where they read the reports from the student teams and rate them on a Likert scale for each of the ABET criteria (a mixture of engineering and liberal arts outcomes). The ratings on the eleven ABET criteria and narrative evaluations of the reports are then entered into a database that faculty can consult in order to improve the quality of any further projects they sponsor. Administrators use the database to design faculty development workshops related to these projects.

Following Excert from:

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Nursing Portfolio: Madonna University

Student nurses at Madonna University develop and maintain an educational portfolio during the four semesters of nursing courses. In the Senior Seminar in the final semester, they compose a prologue to the portfolio. In this prologue, the student makes explicit connections between the goals of general education at Madonna and the Department of Nursing program outcomes. The student also includes in the prologue a summary of the areas of most significant growth throughout his or her whole baccalaureate experience.

Completion of the fourth term marks the final assessment of the student’s progress toward achieving general education goals and nursing program outcomes. The final state of the portfolio is highly organized. Students write individual essays that explicitly address the integration of relevant University general educational goals with the nursing program outcomes. Thus, nursing program outcomes, general education outcomes, and personal goals are woven together in the student’s final semester -but as a reflection on what has happened all through the previous semesters. The integration of the undergraduate experience begins when the student begins to put together the portfolio.

For example, communication is one of the nursing program outcomes. The student begins with general education courses in English composition to improve the ability to write effectively. Later, a course in “foreign” culture enlightens students on ways of thinking and practicing in other cultures and facilitates the development of cultural sensitivity in communication. In the nursing program, there are courses that address therapeutic communication and communication in family and community situations that provide insights into verbal and non-verbal forms of communication. Therefore, specific communication abilities required for nursing professionals are developed by expanding and further reinforcing the communication skills that were begun in general education courses. To help the student make the link between program outcomes and general education goals, the Senior Seminar syllabus links each program outcome with the appropriate general education goal, the seminar course outcomes, and the course outcome indicators.

Following Excert from:

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Portfolio Assessments: Teacher Education at Alverno College

Candidates for student teaching at Alverno College engage in a portfolio assessment experience the semester before they complete their student teaching. This is a culminating experience, one toward which they have been working since the beginning of the program. The purposes of the portfolio assessment are to give candidates an opportunity to demonstrate their readiness for student teaching by showing how they plan, teach, assess, and give feedback - and how they assess their own teaching. Both Alverno faculty and an educator from the P-12 sector give feedback on the portfolio. There are eight general areas of ability that the Alverno faculty identified as essential attributes to be attained by every student who graduates from the institution. For education majors, these eight attributes are clustered and aligned with the five abilities required of professional teachers.

Students regularly work on lesson plan development and self assessment according to the frameworks used in the portfolios, so that they prepare for the portfolio assessment in every class they take. New learning also occurs in doing the portfolio in two ways. First, students write reflections on what each lesson shows about them as developing teachers. They also write a detailed analysis of a videotaped lesson in terms of the double list of abilities above. Second, a professional in their field publicly critiques the portfolio. In these ways, students advance from just reflecting on their own performance to a deeper understanding of effective teaching. Portfolio assessment involves all members of the education department, members of the departments that prepare secondary teachers, and professionals from local P-12 systems.

Following Excert from:

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Senior Assignments in Business: Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE)

The core of SIUE’s assessment program rests with the Senior Assignment (SRA). The SRA is defined as a scholarly engagement between student and professor that results in a product. Because the product is visible, it, and the curriculum that produced it, can be assessed. Students are observed while doing the SRA and examined on or asked to defend the product. The SRA is a culminating experience that provides a concrete experience of integration for students and an authentic indication of student learning to the faculty.

The SIUE School of Business identified four sets of attributes that their graduates should possess, with each set containing five further specifications of the general attribute. Each of the graduating seniors should

  • Demonstrate skills acquisition
  • Demonstrate liberal knowledge
  • Possess business goals
  • Possess business skills.

Elsewhere, the second outcome might be considered to be outside of business—an outcome for which general education faculty “out there” are responsible. At SIUE, in contrast, Business School professors are responsible for all of the outcomes listed above and are involved in teaching formal general education classes.

Two kinds of student activities occur in the Business SRAs. The first is an assignment to write a memorandum to a department manager in a simulated corporation. The student must review all aspects of a complex business case—markets (domestic and international), legal aspects (court decisions, tax law), accounting and financial contexts, technology, labor relations, and so forth—a genuinely cross-functional analysis. The memorandum is expected to make recommendations in the area of the student’s specialization, after demonstrating a grasp of the total situation. Students then give an oral presentation and defense of the memorandum, and several faculty raters judge the student’s mastery of oral and written communication, application of appropriate knowledge, analytical and critical reasoning, and persuasiveness or effectiveness.

The second is participation in an annual International Business Policy Competition that calls for multidisciplinary student teams to develop an analysis and a set of recommendations in response to simulated quarterly reports. As in the previous case, this simulation asks students to undertake roles and duties similar to what they will encounter after graduation. SIUE faculty use the results of each set of SRAs to improve its quality in ensuing years. For example, recent assessments have led to a plan to include a more explicit ethical dimension to the memorandum exercise.

Following Excert from:

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Senior Assessment: Alverno College Division of Nursing

As a general principle, all assessments of outcomes at Alverno deal with both disciplinary knowledge (the major), as well as the eight abilities to be acquired by all graduates from the College (general education). These eight abilities are: communication, analysis, problem solving, valuing, social interaction, developing a global perspective, effective citizenship, and aesthetic responsiveness. The advanced outcomes for student nurses at Alverno incorporate the preceding eight abilities. The student nurse:

  • Uses the nursing process within an analytic framework in meeting health needs of individuals, families, and groups
  • Formulates value judgments reflecting a respect for the dignity and individuality of every person
  • Interacts in an effective goal-directed manner
  • Collaborates as a member of the health team to facilitate the adaptive process
  • Uses adaptation theory in analyzing environmental influences
  • Accepts a commitment to fulfill the responsibilities of a professional practitioner in contemporary society.

Typical of the kind of performance assessments embedded throughout the years of study are two senior-level assessments created by the Nursing Division that require integration of these outcomes in a manner especially appropriate to a nursing graduate. The first is an “In Basket” simulation, in which a senior nursing student takes on the role of a public health nurse preparing to go on vacation, who then gets a call dealing with possible child abuse. The student must immediately generate questions to ask during the site visit and possible interventions to be ready to implement. In addition to that call, s/he must prioritize and develop care plans for a caseload of families and assign the right personnel to manage the caseload while s/he is on vacation. The student nurse’s performance is judged by faculty, by professionals from the community, and by the student him/herself (according to previously published criteria).

The second assessment assigns the task of designing a campus health fair (to be actually conducted on campus) to a group of student nurses. One of the important parts of the design is the development of the criteria that the students will use to judge the degree of success of the health fair. As above, many people provide feedback to students on their performance and, more importantly, on their self-assessments.

These particular assessments are also learning experiences for students, because they simulate real professional situations and demand “on-your-feet” synthesis of abilities and knowledge.

Following Excert from:

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Senior Capstone: Portland State University

The general education program that Portland State adopted in 1994 requires every student to complete a six-credit senior capstone. This capstone has four main objectives:

  • To provide an opportunity for students to apply the expertise learned in the major to real community issues.
  • To give students experience working in a team context necessitating collaboration with persons from different fields of specialization
  • To encourage students to become actively engaged in addressing community issues
  • To empower students to create summation products that represent their learning and meet the needs of community partners

The specific expertise from the major will obviously vary from student to student. All students, however, are expected to exhibit competence in four key areas: communication, appreciation of diversity, critical thinking, and appreciation of social responsibility. Earlier components of the general education program are designed to prepare students to perform as desired in the capstones. The freshman year focuses on inquiry skills in various disciplines; communication, both individual and in groups, is stressed in the second year; and then upper-level cluster courses enable students to apply inquiry and communication skills in a more sustained manner to a theme of their own choosing. Finally, students are provided with orientation and training materials within the capstone itself.

Each capstone engages a multidisciplinary team of students, under the supervision of a faculty member and a community partner, in developing solutions to real community issues. Students have to work collaboratively with one another and with people from the community. Some 140 of these capstones are offered each year - thirty-five in each of the four quarters - so students have real possibilities of finding a topic that fits both their interests and their academic background.

Through observations by faculty and community leaders, study of reflective journals by the students, and open-ended surveys and interviews, assessment results show that students claim and exhibit important learning in teamwork skills, in how to apply their learning to real life problems, and in social responsibility. Integration of the student’s entire undergraduate experience, in applying their learning to solve a real community problem, is the clear theme that emerges from student reflections on the capstone experience. The Capstone Office reports these data to the faculty, to guide course revisions, and the office uses them to plan the faculty development activities needed to improve the program.

Following Excert from:

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Senior Integrated Design Project: College of Engineering, University of Hartford

The College of Engineering at the University of Hartford has been engaged in deliberate efforts to integrate humanities, sciences, and social sciences into the engineering curriculum. The new senior capstone is the fifth in a series of “Integrated Learning Blocks” that begin in the freshman year. This capstone gives students the opportunity to show that they have mastered the process of solving engineering problems, while at the same time taking into account the larger human, social, political, economic, and environmental contexts.

The capstone focus is an engineering problem that is studied by a team of seniors under the direction of Hartford faculty and one or more industry partners. The final product could be a new product or process or a new experiment or methodology that would be implemented in industry. The results are shown in the form of a written report that summarizes the student team’s analysis of the problem and the design solution that it proposes. The team makes an oral presentation of its report to an audience of student peers, university faculty, and representatives from business and industry. The oral and written reports must contain sections that address the social, political, economic, and cultural dimensions of the problem and its proposed solution.

Students are prepared for this senior project by Integrative Learning Blocks in the previous three years of the engineering curriculum. The Freshman Block calls for collaboration between engineering and humanities faculty on the development of skills in communication, research, data evaluation, and problem analysis in small groups. In the sophomore year, the focus is on problem solving skills and discussion of ethical issues and their social context between engineering and non-engineering students. Junior year engineering courses are linked to Western Heritage courses in the all-university curriculum. Collaborative learning and team-building experiences are key parts of these preparatory learning blocks.

Faculty assessment of the senior capstones is done on the basis of work carried out to satisfy the objectives and goals. The presentation part is focused on the written report and its oral presentation, as well as on observation of the process used by the student team to produce the report. Students have had feedback from faculty in previous years on the development of skills needed to succeed in the capstone. The assessment of the team's work by business and industry clients raises the level of seriousness of this capstone project in students’ minds. Engineering faculty put the results of the capstone assessments to good use in revising the structure and the teaching of the earlier Integrated Learning Blocks.

Following Excert from:

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Senior Seminar: Saint Joseph’s College

Saint Joseph’s College has had an interdisciplinary core curriculum since 1969; all students take the same ten team-taught general education courses (a total of 45 semester hours) throughout an eight-semester period. The final core segment in the second semester of the senior year is a three-credit seminar that engages students, individually or in small groups, in confronting some serious contemporary issue that forces them to integrate what they have learned through their majors with what they have learned in the general education core.

There are four primary points on which student work is assessed. Students must: (1) study a seminar topic from at least two disciplinary perspectives; (2) include the ethical dimension of the topic in their work; (3) demonstrate the ability to do the kind of research appropriate to their topic; and (4) present the results in oral and written forms representative of senior-level work.

Since these senior seminar presentations constitute both a bridge between general education and the major and also a performance that recapitulates a student’s entire undergraduate experience a great deal of attention is focused here in the institution’s assessment plan. This is where the college judges its “product.” The seminar professor makes the grading and assessment judgment for each of his or her students and also coaches students in making detailed self-assessments of their work. But at least half of the seminar presentations are also judged by a team of four or five “outside” raters: retired professors, administrative staff, and professionals from the local community. (There are rubrics created by the core faculty to help coordinate the outside ratings with the faculty ratings.) The core curriculum committee analyzes the results of each year’s assessments of the senior seminar to determine if and where changes need to be made in the freshman, sophomore, and junior years.

Although the senior seminar requires more thorough research and a more professional presentation than any previous work in the core, there is ample opportunity for students to learn and to rehearse these skills at the lower levels. In the six-credit segment of the core that students take each semester, they constantly see faculty modeling interdisciplinary ways of studying topics and attending to the value dimensions of issues. In core discussion groups, students then are required to talk and write about the texts and issues in an integrative manner. Since Saint Joseph’s is a small institution, the faculty for the core are the same faculty who teach in the majors, so the common core and the majors tend to become synchronized very quickly.

Following Excert from:

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Synthesis for Professional Nursing Practice: DePaul University

At DePaul University all students are required to complete a capstone course to fulfill a liberal studies general education requirement. The capstone course is designed to integrate humanities and science perspectives within the major discipline. For nursing students this course is “Synthesis for Professional Nursing Practice,” a liberal studies course taught by nursing faculty. Although the main assignment in this course deals with a nursing topic, student performance is assessed in relationship to the ten University Learning Goals for graduates: mastery of content, communication, independence and cooperation in professional practice, multicultural perspectives, religious and ethical foundations, critical and creative thinking, multiple literacies, arts and literature aesthetic, self-reflection and lifelong learning, and historical consciousness. In that way, this seminar course serves as a culmination of the student’s prior courses and includes further development in the professionalization process.

One-half of the grade in the synthesis course derives from the written and oral presentations of a student’s handling of a controversial issue in professional nursing practice. In keeping with the breadth of the ten learning goals, there are clear and explicit expectations that the student presentations will include an historical perspective, an aesthetic dimension, and spiritual or cultural influences. Discussion of topics related to evidence-based practice, health policy development, ethical decision making, use of technology, and cost containment practices in managed care are some of the specific ways that university goals in the humanities and social sciences show up in these projects. Communication skills and critical thinking skills are assessed whether students are presenting or in the audience.

As was stated in a recent syllabus for this synthesis course, “after participating in this course the student will be able to synthesize information on a specific controversial topic, including a historical perspective, ethical and legal issues, aesthetic and spiritual perspectives.”

The nursing department developed specific assessment criteria for each of the ten learning goals, as a student of nursing would be expected to exhibit them. Assessment rubrics for these criteria are used to assess performance formally at entry into the program and at graduation, as well as throughout student coursework to give criterion-referenced feedback. The assessment process includes student self-assessment prior to faculty assessment using the same rubrics. The synthesis project thus serves both as the formal graduation assessment used to measure capstone student performance, including integration of nursing outcomes with university general education outcomes, and as the primary source of data for program evaluation.

Following Excert from:

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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