The use of assessments at institutional level leads to improvement of student learning. It is the interventions that are put in place based on the data derived from assessment that lead to enhanced learning (Ebersole, 2007). Assessment has been described as a good partner with other initiatives such as diversity and increasing of the flexibility of the learning environment. Research shows that encouraging quality assessments of teaching and learning at the institutional level acts as a new mean of strengthening of the internal performance of colleges and universities (Ebersole, 2007).
Assessments also promote academic audits at the regional level as a mean of peripheral accountability. McCullough (2007) noted that assessment should occur in an amenable, compassionate and enabling on a continuous basis atmosphere . The leadership and audience of assessment should be indisputably interested in assessment as a mechanism for improvement (Ebersole, 2007). In addition, a positive culture of assessment assists in facilitating assessment implementation (McCullough, 2007).
Types of Assessments
There are various types of assessment that can be used within a program, department or an entire institution. These include direct and indirect assessments, classroom and formative assessments. According to McCullough (2007), direct assessments may take various forms such as projects, products, papers, exhibitions, performances, case studies, clinical evaluations, and oral exams. Indirect assessments of learning include self report measures such as surveys distributed to students which can be used both in courses and at the program and institutional levels (McCullough, 2007). Other indirect methods used in program or institutional assessment include surveys of graduates in which respondents share their views about what they know or can do with their knowledge (McCullough, 2007). Classroom assessment techniques are small scale assessments carried out frequently in college classroom by discipline based teachers to establish what students are learning in that class (McCullough, 2007). Formative assessment provides useful information about program and institution level learning that can kindle immediate change in pedagogy, design of instruction, curriculum and services that support learning.
The assessment of learning outcomes at the program or institutional level is likely to be reflected in an aggregation or a synthesis of course-level assessments including capstone courses and may incorporate data from such additional measures as professional licensure examinations (McCullough, 2007). According to McCullough (2007), program level assessment is defined as a comprehensive, systematic process that defines goals for students learning and then provides evidences or data indicating that a program has achieved the required goals. Program assessment includes department, divisions, schools or services within an institution. According to Saunders (2011), program level assessment offers insight into a student’s learning at the macro level and indicates how well programs are achieving their learning outcome goals. Program level goals, integrated with general education and other institutional outcomes lead to institutional goals.
Institutional level assessment is based on a college or university’s mission statement, philosophy or educational objectives (McCullough, 2007). This type of assessment provides data that helps administrators in determining how effectively students are acquiring the skills identified within the mission and educational outcomes. For example, an institution may wish to demonstrate that certain goals expressed in its mission were achieved through exposure to the entirety of its curriculum and co-curricular experiences (McCullough, 2007).
Student level assessment occurs when student learning is assessed for individual students at the course level where results are aggregated at the program level and the institutional level. McCullough (2007) explained “student assessment within courses as a process in which students receive regular feedback on their knowledge and skill development and teachers use the same information to shape their teaching strategies, activities and styles as well as to guide individual student learning” (p. 17). This type of assessment directly affects student achievement within a course (McCullough, 2007).
Course level assessment examines the cumulative results of student performance within particular courses. In this type of assessment, course outcomes are assessed at this level. McCullough (2007) indicated that in addition to data collected from projects, exams or other assessment activities, classroom assessment techniques may be used to determine what students are learning.
Data Collection and Analysis
As colleges and universities attempt to develop methods of evaluating performance and institutional quality, collecting data on various characteristics of individuals including leadership characteristics will continue to increase (Hansman, 2007). Data collection provides a basis on which assessment can be conducted in an accurate way. As assessment standards change, more weight is placed on demonstrating quantifiable results of institutional planning efforts (Ebersole, 2007).
Interviews and documents are two of the three most prominent means of data collection within qualitative research design. McCullough (2007) says that a researcher can conduct interviews to illuminate information that could not be directly observed. The subjects of the institutional assessment include department leaders and program administrators of each program under study (Ebersole, 2007). Within this data collection method, the interview protocol should contain items relevant to demographic information, assessment plan effectiveness, resources and assurances and contentment. McCullough (2007) says that a sample Likert scale response items from the ICSA can be modified and included within the interview protocol. The data collector should utilize yes/no response items and open-ended questions to gather data. Open ended interview questions enable the examination of responses that capture the points of the view of other people.
In addition, Noriega (2006) noted that data collection is one of the most labor intensive aspects of qualitative assessment. Data collection can be done through interviewing which is the most time-consuming method of data collection and to analyzing, but it is also the most direct and reliable way to assess perceptions about its effectiveness (Noriega, 2006). During interviews it is essential to ensure that the right questions are put ot the right individuals. During interviews data can be collected from each subject in a short questionnaire. Noriega (2006) noted that e-mails have proved to be an important method for further observation and data collection, as staff and administrators can answer numerous questions in countless e-mails during the research process. Data collection can also be done through focus groups.
Data collected should be analyzed during and immediately following site visits. Hansman (2007) indicated that data collection and analysis should occur hand in hand within qualitative research. The researcher should use a unique case orientation in order to maintain the richness, depth, meaning and contribution of the research. McCullough (2007) further indicated that coding procedures should be used to improve standardization and rigor and to expand, transform and reconceptualize the data. Following the analyses of individual cases, the researcher should conduct a comparative analysis.
Effective coding and analysis of assessment data requires transcription; an analysis to ascertain general sense of the data; organization of the data into categories labeled by terms based on the language of the participant (McCullough, 2007). A narrative to discuss the findings and interpretation of the data is important as well. McCullough (2007) noted that “document analysis protocols should be used to analyze information from assessment plans, assessment meeting minutes and assessment results” (p. 35). It should be noted that data gathered from the documents analyzed should be used to reinforce or dispute the findings from the two aforementioned interview protocols.
Reporting Findings to Higher Education Constituents
Studies indicate that institutions involved in strong practices of assessment should report the results of assessment clearly and in a meaningful way so that all the relevant stakeholders fully understand the results (Bresciani, Gardner & Hickmott, 2010). Assessment reporting relies on publicity to push colleges and universities to pursue state priorities and improve institutional performance. McCullough (2007) indicated that findings reporting rests on the assumption that institutions and individuals perform better when they know their assessment results will become public. The reports are typically disseminated to governors, legislators, campus leaders, department and faculty heads and they increasingly appear on the web sites of coordinating or system boards and individual institutions.
Reporting the results of the assessment process is of vital importance as this allows the institutions to see how well students are achieving the established outcomes for the department or division and how improvements can be made to help students achieve these outcomes. Bresciani, Gardner & Hickmott (2010) indicated that reporting the results of assessment can at times be very frustrating. The need to keep the results succinct for supervisors and administrators and at the same time from having so much data that it becomes difficult to deem which results are most important and valuable (Bresciani, Gardner & Hickmott, 2010). After reporting, the implementation of assessment should incorporate multiple measures of assessment to accommodate the multidimensional and developmental properties of learning and to improve reliability and validity.
Using the Information in Current or Future Work Experiences
At the implementation phase, methods for evaluating the assessment plan and student’s learning outcomes must be articulated (McCullough, 2007). The information obtained from the assessment can be used within the improving and sustaining phase, in order to produce credible evidence of learning and organizational effectiveness (Saunders, 2011). Scholars indicate that summative assessment data may be used to provide feedback to both the students and the institution to illustrate how effectively students can achieve programmatic and institutional intended learning outcomes (McCullough, 2007).
The assessment data must be used for continuous program improvement and to improve services. McCullough (2007) says that various departments should utilize assessment data to identify weaknesses within student achievement. Internally, the information can be used in various areas of institutional planning and decision making. Also the information must be shared in order to utilize the data for a basis of improvement.
In conclusion, assessment provides a vehicle for demonstrating accountability to stakeholders within and outside the institution. This important feature provides an additional means for educators to meet responsibilities to students and the public. The data collected as a result of assessment demonstrates student’s and the institution’s achievement and can be reported to various stakeholders. For the assessment measures to be effective, they should be documented at different times throughout a course or program. Institutions must integrate ongoing evaluation and enhancement of the assessment process itself.