Political Science Discipline Assessment 2006-2007


Scope of assessment activities

         ______Course-embedded assessment

                     _______ Pre- and post-testing

         ______ Outside the classroom

         ______ Across the discipline

Direct measures of student learning

         ___√__ Capstone experience

         ______ Portfolio assessment

         ______ Standardized tests

         ______ Performance on national licensure, certification or

                     preprofessional exams

         ______ Qualitative internal and external juried review of

                     of comprehensive senior projects

         ______ Externally reviewed exhibitions and performances in

                     the arts

         ______ External evaluation of performance during internships


Discussion and Description

Discipline goals, direct measures, and improved student learning


         1. Three subfields

         Students majoring in political science must choose one of three subfields in which to concentrate their studies: American politics; international relations and comparative politics; or political theory. There is a capstone course for each subfield.


         2. Political Science discipline learning objectives are

Š      to be able to critically analyze, interpret and synthesize the major theories that are prevalent in a major subfield of political science

Š      to become more empowered to participate in government due to increased familiarity with politics and government

Š      to be adequately prepared for entrance into graduate or professional school.


         3. Capstone courses for the three subfields

         3.1. A fully implemented course.

         The course became mandatory for majors with the 2003-2005 UMM catalog. However, students can graduate from UMM under the requirements of any catalog in effect during their enrollment, with the consequence that until the class of 2007, not all majors took the capstone course. However, the course is now fully implemented with all twenty-one majors who graduated in 2007 having taken it.

         3.2. Capstone requirements.

         Students write a scholarly paper and make an oral presentation of their results. They enroll in the course in the fall semester of their senior year. A minority of them finish in the fall, but most require both semesters to complete the requirements.

         3.3. Assessment tool.

         All faculty met to evaluate all papers and presentations with respect to eleven assessment criteria that reflect the three broad discipline goals. For each criterion, each student’s work is rated at one of three levels: failed to meet, met or exceeded expectations. “Expectation” refers to quality, that the quality was commensurate with a political science graduate at a top liberal arts college and would be suitable for presentation at a top undergraduate research conference. Among the criteria is whether the student demonstrates readiness for graduate, professional or law school.

         3.4. Assessing student learning.[1]

         The author of the discipline report notes many positive results in this year’s capstone students: 50 to 75 % of the students wrote well, showed good scholarly editing skills, gave good presentations, showed adequate knowledge of the field, and demonstrated an overall command of the material. On the downside, many of the papers would not be suitable for presentation at a top undergraduate research conference; many did not demonstrate proper methodological rigor, and had inadequate literature reviews as well as unclear or poorly developed hypotheses. The faculty judged that about half of the majors demonstrated readiness for graduate, professional or law school.

         3.5. Improving student learning.

         3.5.1. In the capstone course.

         Now that the capstone course has been fully implemented, and the faculty has gotten a comprehensive and detailed look through the course at learning among its majors, a dozen changes have been recommended for the capstone course and its assessment.[2] Some of the proposed changes are more or less mechanical in nature, but some are substantive: in the future the faculty will measure information literacy and the student’s ability to adequately contextualize the “fit” of their paper within the field; and there will be a greater emphasis throughout the curriculum on the differences between scholarly and non-scholarly sources.

         3.5.2. In the program.

         Four changes have been proposed. One change, the need to offer International Relations Theory annually, is driven by the failure of several students in the capstone course to demonstrate an adequate theoretical understanding of the field. The faculty also recognizes the need for major changes in the political theory subfield because of the poor papers and presentations by the two political theory students in the capstone course.


         3.6. Student surveys.

         Tables 2-4 in the body of the discipline report give numerical summaries of student self-assessment of the degree to which they have met the three discipline learning objectives. Their written comments appear in Appendix B. Appendix A is the survey instrument itself.[3] The student surveys helped shape changes to the capstone course and the program.


General education categories spanned by the discipline


            Political Science courses bear one of the following general education designators: E/CR, ethical and civic responsibility; SS, human behavior, social processes, and institutions; Hum, communication, language, literature, and philosophy; HDiv, human diversity; IP, international perspective; or Hist, historical perspectives. Exceptions are directed study and field study in political science, which carry no general education designators.



[1] Table 1 of the discipline report in the appendices gives the numerical results for each criterion.

[2] See the discipline report for the full lists.

[3] These tables and appendices are in the discipline report in the appendix to this report.