Assessment of Student Learning

Final Report
Assessment of Assessment Subcommittee
May 1998

During the 1997-98 school year, a subcommittee of the Assessment Committee was formed to canvas the attitudes of the campus community regarding the formal and technical process of Assessment presently in place on the University of Minnesota, Morris campus. The Assessment of Assessment subcommittee sent out thirty-three surveys to program coordinators and directors. Twenty-nine surveys were returned. Only three academic areas failed to respond. This is a return rate of almost 88%.

While some divergence of opinion is to be expected on any survey conducted on any campus, the overarching conclusion to be drawn from the survey results is that:

The members of the campus community are committed to meaningful assessment of student learning and have always done assessment, but they are not necessarily committed to the formal assessment process we have instituted in response to NCA requirements.

The following are the compiled responses to the individual questions asked along with representative comments for each question.

Please estimate the number of hours you and other personnel in your unit have spent on your unit's assessment plan during the 1997-1998 academic year.

356 hours or 8.9 weeks

Given the average faculty salary of roughly $46,000,

this time spent cost the institution roughly $7,832.

1. Developing and implementing our formal unit assessment plan will significantly change the way my unit assesses student learning.


Probably not. We already had a strong assessment plan in place that we have not made significant changes to.

We already assess our program. This assessment plan is simply a device for informing others how we do so.

I think we will [be] doing the bare minimum that satisfies NCA's requirements. The documentation will change though.

Program assessment will be much more systematic and yield more interpretable results.

2. Implementation of my unit's assessment plan will lead to improvements that otherwise would not occur.


Such implementations will not improve anything in a substantive way although external perceptions may be satisfied.

Might lead to improvements.

But I agree that it will lead us to have better documentation of what we do, and it forced us to develop goals and to talk about our priorities more.

We do not know yet; but we hope it will.

Far too early to judge, but I doubt it will.

Knowing whether or not we are successful ought to help us focus our efforts.

3. The formal assessment process has improved or will improve student learning.


I do not see that this will occur. It is the quality of our faculty not an assessment process that will assure student learning is of a high quality.

Insufficient data yet.

Can't tell or foretell.

Too simplistic. Not capturing the richness of what the program or students do.

Yes. It is vital that objectives and assessment be tied together. Knowing what students should learn and then assessing how well they have learned is most important.

Depends a bit on what is meant by improved. I would choose the words "more responsive."

It depends on whether energies devoted to assessment take away from other projects/aspects of teaching.

4. The strength of support in your unit for the present assessment effort is:



I would choose none of these adjectives to describe our support. Since formal assessment is more externally than internally driven, I would say that "i ndifferent" may be closer to the mark.

We've always assessed our students, even before it was fashionable.

Neutral, except for the person that designed this assessment plan from information he read and/or work he already follows. He seems to like his plan Other than that, the discipline will comply as instructed by the administration.

Lack of financial support; no reduction in load or work; no demonstration of positive outcomes; outside forces in control.

There seems to me to be a university level of implementation of outcome based education. I resent having to participate in the latest educational fad. I do not agree with the philosophy of outcome based education and believe that it trivialized what we do as a discipline.

Moderate willingness to cooperate; skeptical about any practices that are too cumbersome.

The support is strong only because it is viewed as being inevitable.



What suggestions do you have for improving UMM's formal assessment effort?

The process, if it is to be continuing, needs to be simple so that the assessment does not become an end in itself. [Expresses the views of only one me mber of the discipline.]

Drop it. There is absolutely no need for it. The assessment effort does not improve the quality of anything. The quality of our programs has already been established. The assessment plan is lacking definite form or limits. It is unclearly established, since it seems to follow a briefly popular fashion, a fad. It is only a confusing burden on us. We don't need it.

This whole process still feels like something we must do because someone else says we must. The committee is making a commendable effort to have us (facult y & disciplines) involved, but a genuine motivation is lacking.

What ails us is a lack of resources in money and time. The assessment program only exacerbates these problems.

Since we are operating from a mandate from our accreditation organization, I see no opportunity to divorce the university from this work.

I want the committee to understand that the education discipline believes in the assessment effort at UMM. I don't want to be negative about the process be cause it is necessary and can be instrumental in improving education. I just wanted to be clear that we already have a detailed process in use, so we aren't benefiting that much by this new effort.

I am certain that members of my discipline are perplexed. We do a lot of assessment, but the NCA is not interested in most kinds of assessments that we do. We originally had things in our assessment plan that the NCA critique discounted, so we deleted them. [W]e are perplexed; we are professionals that devote a lot of time to assessing students’ learning; we are confident that we know what we are doing , but the spirit behind the formal assessment plan calls for something different. It is by no means evident to us that the extra work of implementing other methods will have a pay-off in improved student learning.

Try to simplify the process. Most of the forms appear very confusing when they appear in our mailboxes.

Some of us need more concrete suggestions.

If possible, avoid excessive educational jargon. Sell the effort in plain language!




Other Comments the Subcommittee Found Needing Attention

[Need a] clear unambiguous statement about how to meet the NCA demands for assessment and a rational, efficient way to meet those demands.

The assessment bureaucracy being proposed moves us even closer to a corporate model of management with the students as consumers, the administration as man agers, and the faculty as employees. The demise of academe as we know it is close at hand if this type of nonsense persists.

About the only suggestion that I can make is for the faculty in each discipline to decide what constitutes acceptable performance of a student graduating w ith a specific major. Notice that I said "acceptable" rather than "exceptional". The tests and other requirements should be devised to allow faculty to provide evidence that a student has demonstrated "acceptable" performance.

The only sensible way would be to provide validated, standardized assessment instruments, ones that have been used by other institutions as well as ours. I 'm betting that instruments capable of assessing achievement of our curricular goals do not now exist, would be extraordinarily expensive to develop, and would have little impact on our curriculum. Ruses such as student portfolios maybe informative (i.e., lead to perceptions of being informative) for site visitors and others auditors, but they have none of the characteristics of valid, standardized instruments. Existing standardized tests, such as GRE or advanced placement tests, get only of a fraction of our objectives and do so poorly.

I have serious reservations about the NCA approach. UMM had already implemented a fine assessment of the academic disciplines several years ago from which the history discipline learned a great deal, I doubt seriously that the hoops the NCA wishes us to jump through will help us very much. Instead, they divert us from more important tasks and test our morale.




A faculty member, in conversation, captured the mood of the campus when commenting, "Our hands are already full. If the administration wishes us to pick up assessment, what are we to put down?'



Respectfully submitted,

Assessment of Assessment Committee

Mary Elizabeth Bezanson, Chair, Humanities

Tom Johnson, Psychology

Peh Ng, Math and Science

Mario French, Student