Blog: Idea Exchange

Getting the Assessment Year off on the Right Foot

Jennifer Galipeau August 22, 2017

According to a dear friend of mine, “August is September’s waiting room.” While some may take a gloomy view of this late summer month, the arrival of August has always been exciting for me.  It is a time of possibility and promise of what could be.  During my years as a fulltime faculty member, I spent August preparing for new students, refreshing course materials and looking forward to catching up with my colleagues on campus.  Yet, there was one thing I never looked forward to and that was the start of the school year meetings.

These days, as my institution’s Director of Outcomes Assessment, I spend my summers developing programming and materials for our annual assessment meetings, which take place just before the start of academic year.  Yes, ironically, I now plan the type of meetings I used to dread as a faculty member.   However, my past experiences have served to inform my way forward as we strive to foster a culture of evidence at our institution.  Over the past few years, I’ve discovered a few strategies that have helped to increase the chances that the year gets off on the proverbial right foot concerning assessment.   I share the following in the hopes that your start of the year assessment meetings (whatever the format) serve to energize and engage your faculty concerning all things assessment.

  • Making it meaningful – Make it actionable: Solutions like Taskstream-Tk20 make it easy to generate reports.  However, keep in mind that in some cases these reports may be overwhelming for faculty.  To address this situation, consider how results might be presented in ways that speak to and engage faculty.  For example, we’ve created dashboard reports with pie charts for each program outcome using data pulled from the Learning Achievement Tools (LAT) platform.  The at-a-glance format helps faculty more quickly determine which results they want to explore more deeply, resulting in richer conversations about what the data mean and what actions should be taken.
  • We ALL own the data.  There can be a tendency for faculty who have not scored student work for assessment purposes to feel that they shouldn’t be actively participating in the discussion of results and what they mean.  At my institution, we’ve worked hard to stress that all faculty own the assessment data regardless of who did the actual scoring.  Just as they “own” all of the students who walk across the stage during commencement ceremonies, they similarly all own assessment data.  This mantra of ownership is critical to fostering a spirit of engagement.
  • Keep the focus on IMPROVING – not external proving: Assessment data can be messy, especially if results are based on authentic student work rather than standardized testing, for example.  Despite best efforts, there will issues with rubric use, interrater reliability, population size, the way an assessment task was implemented, etc.  This imperfect reality can lead some faculty to worry that the assessment efforts aren’t worth much to external audiences because of problems with the way data was collected.  However, if the focus remains on using results to drive faculty discussion and inform actions aimed at program improvement the assessment process is working perfectly.

Contributed by Jennifer Galipeau Ed.D., Director of Outcomes Assessment, Johnson & Wales University