Teaching, Learning & Assessment

Assessment Myths & Truths

Adapted from OTIS College of Art & Design

Myth: External accountability is the most important goal of assessment. We assess programs because WASC says we must.

Truth: First and foremost, CSUMB uses assessment results to improve student learning and showcase academic quality (and we have to).

Myth: Assessment of student learning is a means of decreasing faculty’s autonomy.

Truth: Assessment of student learning is a means of increasing the mutual engagement of faculty, students, and staff in providing an optimal learning experience. Assessment is a tool for faculty members to improve student learning.

Myth: The results of assessment will be used to evaluate faculty performance.

Truth: So untrue. Faculty participation and ownership are essential for successful program assessment, but assessment results should not be used to evaluate individual faculty performance. The results of assessments are to showcase and improve programs.

Myth: Assessment is another academic fad and if we wait long enough, it will go away.

Truth: Every indication we have says assessment is here to stay and will most likely increase. The outcomes assessment movement has been a serious one since 1985. Its momentum is growing not waning. All higher education accreditation agencies (including WASC) across the country now include the assessment of learning outcomes as one of their priorities.

Myth: Everything is going well in our department so we don’t need to do assessment.

Truth: The primary purpose of assessment is improving the quality of educational programs by improving student learning. There’s always room for improvement.

Myth: The most efficient way to carry out assessment is to assign a single faculty member the responsibility of conducting all the assessments. Too many people and opinions would only complicate and hinder the process.

Truth: While it is a good idea to have one or two faculty members spearhead the assessment process for the department, it is really important and beneficial to have all faculty members involved. Each person brings different perspectives and ideas for improving the academic program. It is vital that all faculty members understand and agree to the mission, goals, and learning outcomes of the program.

Myth: Course grades are adequate indicators of student learning.

Truth: Traditionally, the assignment of a grade to an individual student provides a summary measure about the student’s performance in the class. Usually, grades do not convey direct information about which of the program learning outcomes were met or how well the student met the outcomes.

However, there are ways to use grades in assessment. For example, when a team of faculty review the student’s course work and assign the course grade based on how well the student achieved a set of program outcomes.

Myth: Surveys of student satisfaction with a course or program are sufficient evidence of student learning.

Truth: Student satisfaction surveys are indirect measures of student learning, that is, they measure student perception of learning rather than actual learning. As a result, indirect measures are not sufficient evidence of student learning; however, they can provide useful and actionable insight when coupled with direct measures of learning.

Myth: There are too many students to assess and a sample of students would not demonstrate the effectiveness of a program.

Truth: Sampling can be an efficient method of collecting student work, provided the sample is representative of the students you want to assess and large enough to confidently make generalizations.

Myth: We need to assess every outcome and every student every year. All learning outcomes have to be assessed every year.

Truth: WASC does not require that every outcome and every student be assessed every year. However, there should be a plan for all outcomes to be systematically assessed on a regular cycle.

Myth: Programmatic assessment is a good idea, but it’s too time consuming.

Truth: Like all good things, if you want good assessment, it takes effort. However, the more it’s embedded in the department’s regular activities, the less burdensome it becomes.

Myth: Collecting student work for program assessment purposes requires student consent.

Truth: Student work collected for program assessment does not require student consent.

Program assessment is excluded from the Committee on Human Studies/Institutional Review Board (IRB) review because it does not meet the definition of research. The Code of Federal Regulations found at 45 CFR 46.102(d) defines research in part as contributing to generalizable knowledge. Program assessment per se does not meet this definition. However, if a person or program plans to disseminate or publish program assessment results beyond program improvement or accreditation purposes then IRB review is necessary.

Program assessment does not violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) if all personally identifiable information is removed before releasing student information. Please note that FERPA does allow disclosure of personally identifiable information of a student without written consent if that disclosure is to an accrediting organization or to other university officials and faculty members (see FERPA section 99.31).