Our Top 10 for Putting Students at the Center

top-tips-post-it-noteCombine over 18 years of experience in the higher education assessment and technology fields, consultation with over 500 programs, institutions, and higher educational organizations, and a knowledgeable group of trained educators and technology specialists and what do you get…a team laser-focused on improving student learning and increasing student achievement.

To do that, we believe it’s imperative to build best-practice processes of assessment across an entire institution that enable: 1) faculty to have the support and tools needed to more effectively communicate feedback on performance to students; 2) students to have the support and tools needed to more deeply engage in a reflective learning process; and 3) administrators to better collect and measure data on teaching and learning with the purpose of using that data to improve student learning.

If learning matters most, as we believe it does over any other driver, then our assessment practices should help students develop the skills and knowledge needed to not only become successful in tomorrow’s marketplace but to also become true lifelong learners. So below, you will find our top ten tips and pieces of advice for developing a best-practice process of assessment aimed at increasing student learning.

  1. Visible, consistent support from leadership, whether at the department, school/college, or institution level, is critical for developing, launching, and sustaining an effective assessment system. Without it, it is extremely challenging to garner cooperation from all the necessary stakeholders – students, faculty, administrators, and alumni. It’s important to identify the assessment leadership and provide adequate resources and support to those managing its implementation.
  2. Determining what and how to assess is critical. Identify the baseline data you will need and use to document change.
  3. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate…Communication with faculty around the assessment process needs to be clear, well-organized, and, most importantly, focused on the purpose of an assessment process: continuous improvement of teaching and learning. The importance of a communications plan around assessment is often neglected. All stakeholders should know what the assessment goals are, what the expectations are, what resources are available, and how data is collected and will be used to improve.
  4. In the best case scenario, the desired student learning outcomes are foundational to the entire assessment process. Sometimes, though, we find student learning outcomes are ‘retro-fitted’ to accommodate existing practices, assignments, and rubrics. Accrediting agencies expect the former and, generally, will not accept the latter. Define a few very clear outcomes that can be measured using a developmental scale applied at two, three or more gateways to determine progress.
  5. Keep the planning simple…Look at what assessments you’re already doing, map them to your learning outcomes, develop any assessments you may need, and make it easy to collect the information from your instructors or evaluators.
  6. Timely Review Process…It’s important that faculty review/assess students’ work in a timely fashion, within the given term. Without the on-time review, students are left to wonder not only about their progress but also to question to real point of assessment. Programs/units should continually review the results and modify their processes based on that data to ensure programming meets student needs.
  7. Make assessment meaningful for students…Include students in the feedback loop and actively engage them in the learning and development of these outcomes. Help them understand and value the criteria, standards, and methods by which they are assessed and evaluated by making real-world connections and application of what they are learning.
  8. Remember that improvement and follow-up (closing the loop) are an integral part of assessment. Formative assessment is done to provide feedback for ongoing activities, and to inform any needed mid-course corrections; summative assessment is done to measure a project’s overall success; longitudinal assessment tracks impacts beyond the duration or initial scope of the project. And if we don’t build follow up into this, then really what’s the point?
  9. When presenting your process of assessment to others, think of it in the following way…it’s like telling a story. Your narrative should be clear in who, what, when, how, and why. You can’t go wrong when you’ve made student learning the protagonist of your story!
  10. Collaborate…don’t be afraid to draw on your colleagues for support. Learn how other institutions are using assessment to improve student learning; attend webinars and assessment-focused conferences; join relevant listservs; or reach out to those who have knowledge and expertise in assessment. Nothing in our field is more important that student learning, and as a result of this sense of collective responsibility, it’s also one of the most collegial.

These are our top 10…tell us, what are yours?

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