What does assessment of academic programs involve?
Assessment of academic programs is about ensuring that a program is providing a quality learning experience to its students. It involves:
- Articulating what students should gain from [majoring in] the program
- Ensuring that the curriculum aligns with those expectations
- Providing evidence that students in the program are actually graduating with the skills and knowledge that the program claims
- Making improvements to the curriculum as needed to get students where faculty want them to be
- Documenting the process for accountability and future reference
Why do we need to assess student learning outcomes?
Appalachian's assessment efforts go beyond meeting the expectations of SACS 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.
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 disciplines. It is also expected that during this process programs will find areas that need improvement, address them, and reassess until the program is functioning up to faculty expectations.
Why are grades not enough?
Grades focus on a student's performance in a class. Assessment focuses on a program's performance.
Grades are often not a reliable measure of learning. Many factors may contribute to a student's grade - attendance, class participation, exam scores, papers, extra credit, etc. Often grades across sections of a course are inconsistent as course content and grading standards between instructors vary.
With a disappointing grade, the focus is on improving the student's performance. The change that needs to occur to improve a student's grade may vary across students who receive the same grade. For three students receiving a "C" in a course, one may have missed too many classes, another may have performed poorly on the midterm, and another may have struggled with a research paper. The grade alone is not a good indicator of what a student learned in the course and what changes might need to be made to the course to improve student learning. Assessment focuses on identifying necessary changes to a program to improve student learning for all students.