Blog: Idea Exchange

Barriers to using assessment results

Linda Suskie June 10, 2015

I’ve heard assessment scholar George Kuh say that most colleges are now sitting on quite a pile of assessment data, but they don’t know what to do with it. Why is it often so hard to use assessment data to identify and implement meaningful changes? In my new book Five Dimensions of Quality: A Common Sense Guide to Accreditation and Accountability (Jossey-Bass), I talk about several barriers that colleges may face. In order to use results…

We need a clear sense of what satisfactory results are and aren’t. Let’s say you’ve used one of the AAC&U VALUE rubrics to evaluate student work. Some students score a 4, others a 3, others a 2, and some a 1. Are these results good enough or not? Not an easy question to answer!

Compounding this is the temptation I’ve seen many colleges face: setting standards so low that all students “succeed.” After all, if all students are successful, we don’t have to spend any time or money changing anything. I’ve seen health and medicine programs, for example, set standards that students must score at least 70% on exams in order to pass. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be treated by a health care professional who can diagnose diseases or read test reports correctly only 70% of the time!

Assessment results must be shared clearly and readily. No one today has time to study a long assessment report and try to figure out what it means. Results need to “pop out” at decision makers, so they can quickly understand where students are succeeding and where they are not.

Change must be part of academic culture. Charles Blaich and Kathleen Wise have noted that the tradition of scholarly research calls for researchers to conclude their work with calls for further research for others to make changes, not acting on findings themselves. So it’s not surprising that many assessment reports conclude with recommendations for modifications to assessment tools or methods rather than to teaching methods or curriculum design.

Institutional leaders must commit to and support evidence-based change. Meaningful advances in quality and effectiveness require resource investments. In my book I share several examples of institutions that have used assessment to make meaningful changes. In every example, the changes required significant resource investments: in redesigning curricula, offering professional development to faculty, restructuring support programs, and so on. But at many other colleges, the culture is one of maintaining the status quo and not rocking the boat.

I am honored and pleased to be one of the featured speakers at CollabExLive! on June 22 at New York University’s Kimmel Center. My session will focus on the first two of these barriers: having clear, justifiable standards and sharing results clearly. This session will be especially fun because we’ll be working with simulated Taskstream reports. I hope to see you!

Linda Suskie, former vice president at the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, is an internationally recognized consultant, writer, speaker, and educator on a broad variety of higher education assessment and accreditation topics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in quantitative studies from Johns Hopkins University and a master’s in educational measurement and statistics from the University of Iowa. Her latest book, Five Dimensions of Quality: A Common Sense Guide to Accreditation and Accountability, is being published by Jossey-Bass in October 2014.