Annual Reviews and Comprehensive Examinations

Annual Reviews and Comprehensive Examinations

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2656-9.ch009
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This chapter discusses forms of assessment that typically fall outside the coursework structure in doctoral programs. This includes annual reviews and comprehensive examinations. The annual review is an assessment that many doctoral programs have developed as an organized way to ensure that all doctoral students are being mentored and their development as professionals in the field is being documented. Comprehensive examinations come in many forms, but they are most commonly used as a culminating checkpoint to assess the level of specialized knowledge the doctoral student has mastered.
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Annual Reviews

The majority of doctoral programs have annual reviews for doctoral students. The common goal across programs is for the annual review to serve as a checkpoint. Different doctoral programs, however, have different procedures for the annual review process based on the goals, requirements, and expectations of the program.

At the University of Wisconsin, the annual review for students in the program for special education is very well defined:

“Each spring semester, students are required to complete an Annual Progress Review. If the advisor and/or Graduate Studies Committee determine through the annual progress review process, or at any other time that a student has failed to achieve satisfactory progress with academic or conduct expectations the outcome may include being placed on probation, receiving a notation of unsatisfactory progress and/or dismissal from the program.

The Annual Progress Review consists of a written report, an advising conversation with the major advisor and a review of the report by the Graduate Studies Committee. The process requires each doctoral student to

  • Discuss their professional and academic development,

  • Reflect on their learning and progress,

  • Document their progress and academic standing in the program.

The result of the review is the marking of a doctoral student’s status as good standing, on probation, or unsatisfactory progress. The latter status can lead to “non-continuation in the program.”

At the University of Missouri, the doctoral program specializing in mathematics education is a similar process:

The purpose of the Annual Review is to provide specific feedback to the student regarding his/her progress and to identify areas where additional growth would be helpful. The annual review increases communication and collaboration among faculty and doctoral students and simulates the promotion and tenure process of tenure-track faculty members. The Annual Review begins with the preparation and submission of a student portfolio – usually in May.

The portfolio is reviewed by mathematics education faculty. The faculty then meet with the student to provide feedback and discuss areas of strength and need. The student’s advisor prepares a written summary highlighting the salient points of the meeting and listing the specific goals to work toward for the next annual review. The Annual Review is required of all doctoral students until they have passed the comprehensive exam.

Both the Wisconsin and Missouri programs give qualitative feedback to encourage the doctoral candidates to continue in the things they are doing well and improve the areas that need growth. The main difference between the process at Missouri compared to the Wisconsin program is that there is no official status.

At Carson-Newman University, the doctoral program in educational leadership in curriculum and instruction takes a very different approach. Since this is a lock-step cohort program, all students in the first-year cohort have taken nearly identical coursework. The only exceptions are those that have transferred in a course or two. That allows for the administration of an assessment similar to comprehensive examinations, but only including the content of the first year of coursework. This only happens in year one of the program, because year two ends with the full comprehensive examination.

According to the student handbook (Carson Newman, 2019):

Students in good standing after two consecutive semesters shall complete a written TILS, PSEL, and CAEP standards-based authentic assessment which is inclusive of information from the first two semesters of coursework (The Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, the TN Instructional Leadership Standards, and the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation). This document is the Annual Review; If not in good standing, the assessment must be postponed until good standing has been re-established; If the student successfully completes the assessment, the student may proceed to the second year of coursework.

Aligned with program goals, the annual assessment is both standards-based and authentic. Doctoral students are given scenarios from prek-16 contexts and asked to respond with how they would overcome dilemmas based on the research they have read and the content they have learned in the first year of coursework.

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