Educator Urges Assessment Conferees to Evaluate Existing Practices

Educator Urges Assessment Conferees to Evaluate Existing Practices
College of Business faculty members discuss plans during the Cal Poly Pomona Assessment Conference at Kellogg West on Jan. 21.
Lester Young talks with David Still
during the Assessment Conference.

In developing an effective assessment program, existing practices should be evaluated and changes should be made as necessary, a nationally known assessment consultant told those attending the Cal Poly Pomona Assessment Conference.

Suggesting that assessment need not begin from scratch, Peggy Maki, of Gloucester, Mass., said in her keynote presentation that development of an assessment program should begin with two simple questions:

  • Who learns what, when, where, why and how?    
  • What achievements are the department, the teacher and the student aiming for at the end of four years of college?    

“Finding out how people learn is incredibly important in examining assessment,” she said during the conference, held Jan. 21-22 at the Kellogg West Conference Center. She added, “How we assess shapes how people learn.”

Mary Allen, a leading assessment consultant based in Pinole, Calif., said the effort to develop an assessment program should involve many people throughout a department — not just a few dedicated individuals.

“This is not something one person should have to do,” she said. “I've been to enough campuses where the junior person on the totem pole is told, 'You do assessment because the rest of us are too busy.' This really requires collaboration.”

According to Allen, key to developing an effective assessment program is understanding what should be assessed, listening to students and paying attention to previous successes and failures.

“It's important to pay attention to your own assessment experiences,” she said. “If you mess up it's okay. Just find a better waydont repeat the mistake.”

While Makis and Allen's discussions were filled with valuable information, a series of “team times” also proved invaluable. During the sessions, more than 120 Cal Poly Pomona faculty and staff participants broke into small groups to discuss what they'd learned, provide each other with input, and begin shaping post-conference plans for assessment.

Before the conference, Margaret Kasimatis, executive director of Institutional Research, Assessment & Planning for Cal Poly Pomona, expressed high hopes for the small groups.

“We're hoping the teams will come out of this motivated to move forward, equipped with the tools and knowledge to move forward, and with a concrete action plan,” she said.

Meanwhile, several Cal Poly Pomona educators offered snapshots of their own assessment efforts. One was Peter Ross, an assistant professor of Philosophy. He suggested that programmatic and course assessment are two very different things.

“It all comes very naturally to us to think in terms of our instructional goals for a classroom,” he said. “Program assessment has a very different perspective. Rather than goals for the course that might be laid out in a syllabus, you have program goals. You are dealing with a different set of people than those who happen to be in your course — you're dealing with a set of majors and youre dealing with them over a period of years.”

Ross said developing an assessment program is fairly straightforward: goals must be developed, means of measuring whether those goals are met must be addressed, and methodology for eventually meeting goals when theyre not met must be drawn.

“Coming up with goals is probably the most crucial part,” he said. “It's like having a good thesis. If you have a good, clear thesis, how you proceed becomes clear and you get a lot out of the effort.”

Ross also suggested that goals be specific enough without being overwhelming.

“You dont want them to be so specific that you end up with 30 goals, because that makes the process so unwieldy that no ones going to want to do it.”

Nancy Page-Fernandez, director of the university's Interdisciplinary General Education Program, said that in her experience listening is the key to effective assessment.

“To me, assessment is about listening to our students in all the ways they communicate to us,” she said. “In the performative things, in their reflections, in their conversations, in exit interviews. Its really about listening to students, then coming together to discuss, interpret and intuit the meaning of that data.”

-Article written by Steven K. Wagner