Why do we need to assess? Why should we continue to assess?


Appalachian's assessment efforts go beyond meeting the expectations of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and various programmatic accreditors. Sound assessment practices will allow programs to speak to institutional stakeholders authoritatively about the impact of their efforts and present evidence that a reasonable person would accept as proof that their claims are accurate. The call for accountability in higher education just keeps getting louder. In response, the University of North Carolina system has included publishing expected learning outcomes for each degree program on each campus as part of the UNC's Strategic Directions. You may find those expected student learning outcomes here.

Program or Unit Improvement

Most importantly, the assessment process at Appalachian is not about keeping score; it is about getting better. The assumption is that programs will craft assessment plans to address that which is most important to student learning in their program disciplines. Likewise, administrative and educational support units’ outcomes should focus on what is most important to the unit and should flow directly from general goals of the unit. It is also expected that during this process programs/units will find opportunities for continuous improvement, address them, and reassess until the program/unit is functioning up to expectations.

Continuous Improvement

In education, the term “continuous improvement” refers to any academic program or administrative and educational support unit 's “improvement process” that unfolds progressively, that does not have a fixed or predetermined end point, and that is sustained over extended periods of time. The concept also encompasses the general belief that improvement is not something that starts and stops, but it’s something that requires an organizational or professional commitment to an ongoing process of learning, self-reflection, adaptation, and growth. For example, when an institution is continuously improving, a variety of small, incremental changes are occurring daily and in ways that cumulatively, over time, affect multiple dimensions of the program/unit or institutional system.[1] The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) expects institutions to demonstrate that full cycles of assessment are taking place by establishing expected goals and outcomes, setting criteria to measure if they have been met or not, and then using this assessment information to promote continuous improvements in student learning, student successes, and in services provided by administrative and educational support units.[2]

[1] Retrieved and adapted from https://www.edglossary.org/continuous-improvement/ 

[2] Retrieved and adapted from https://sacscoc.org/pdf/2018PrinciplesOfAcreditation.pdf

Meeting Criteria

If a criterion is met for an outcome, then a program/unit has a couple of choices to make. Programs/units may decide that the criterion was set too low and decide to raise it (set the bar higher). Alternatively, they may be satisfied with meeting the set criterion and decide to move on to measure another outcome in their assessment plan. Ideally, a program/unit should cycle through measuring all of the outcomes in its assessment plan within a five to seven-year period. Once the they have cycled through measuring all of their outcomes, it will be time to return to the beginning and start again to see if the program or unit is continuing to meet its set criteria.  Regardless of whether or not the numeric criterion was met for a particular outcome, programs and units are asked to reflect on and document how the outcome can continue to be improved in the annual continuous improvement report.