Engaging Faculty as a Strategic Choice in Assessment

Engaging Faculty as a Strategic Choice in Assessment

Sean A. McKitrick
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-667-9.ch020
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This chapter introduces methods that can be used to engage faculty in the assessment process, working within a shared governance structure in institutions of higher education. It begins by identifying assumptions about including faculty in the assessment process, placing special emphasis on social capital and networking theories often used in communication and sociological research. The chapter then proceeds to identify six methods that might be used to engage faculty strategically in the assessment process, and then used three case studies to help explain these methods. The author hopes that an understanding of these assumptions and methods will empower assessment professionals wishing to develop and sustain assessment on their own campuses, and will lead to further discussion about how to include faculty in the assessment process.
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For years, government officials at both federal and state levels have been calling for greater accountability in higher education. The U.S. Department of Education Secretary’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education (2006) submitted a final report which castigates the U.S. higher education community for not developing a culture of accountability that uses assessment measures to demonstrate that student learning is occurring and is being sustained over time. State governments have been even more specific about their expectations regarding the assessment of student learning at program levels, such as New York’s focus on the use of rubrics to assess the quality of student work (Francis, Salins, & Huot, 2006). Other organizations, such as the Educational Testing Service (Millett, Payne, Dwyer, Sticker, & Alexiou, 2008) and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (McPherson & Schulenburger, 2006), have also provided input into the national conversations about assessment and accountability, recommending that colleges and universities begin assessing the “value added” of higher education.

At program levels, accrediting organizations have responded to the pressure to assess student learning by insisting that assessment focus both on learning objectives and use of such assessments for continual improvements in student learning. Most program and regional accreditors believe that faculty must collaborate to create statements of student learning objectives, measure students’ achievement of these objectives, and specify actions that address program weaknesses revealed through the assessment process. For example, the Western Association of Colleges and Schools ([WASC] n.d.) offers an assessment guide that stresses the need for linkages between clear assessment of student learning and how such assessment leads to improvements in student learning. The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools ([NCACS] 2003) has also indicated that institutions should generate evidence of a “mature” level of assessment, linking the usage of student learning outcomes assessments from institutions’ boards of directors down to department and program levels. Even programmatic accrediting organizations such as the National Council for Accrediting Teacher Education ([NCATE] 2002) advise departments and programs to prepare evidence of well-developed assessment methods that link student learning assessment to the improvement of student learning.

This insistence upon assessment and accountability has been met with resistance from many faculty, mainly because of their awareness of the pressures experienced by K-12 educators as local school districts have had to deal with implications of the No Child Left Behind Act. When I have discussed assessment with faculty in higher education, they mention that they feel they are being mandated to assess how their teaching impacts student learning, despite a lack of consensus about which assessments can be used to assess student learning in ways that are sensitive to the differing missions and visions of their home institutions. Those who are experienced in student learning assessment also mention that standardized tests can provide some basic information, but the results of such tests are vague and do not contribute the kinds of information that can lead to faculty discussions about student performance, and thus to a focus on how to help students enhance their learning (McMillan, 1997). In essence, faculty feel that the assessment movement really constitutes an effort by political leaders to bypass the natural faculty role as the primary assessors of student learning.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Formal Interaction: Interactions that are structured within institutional structure or bureaucracy.

Informal Interaction: Interaction that occur outside institutional structures or bureaucracies.

Assessment Process: A process which includes the process of identifying learning objectives, generating valid and reliable assessment information, encouraging conversations about what such assessments have to say, and creating pathways through which curriculum and instruction are impacted by assessment.

Assessment Feedback: Using the results of assessment to evaluate original student learning objectives.

Dynamic Assessment Policy: An assessment policy in which assessment results are used to continually improve curriculum and instruction, requiring a great deal of interplay among key actors.

Purpose of Assessment: To generate meaningful information that enables key agents, principally faculty, to understand the strengths and weaknesses in students’ learning in order to take action to address such weaknesses with regard to curriculum and instruction.

Strategic Process in Assessment: Making choices about how to include faculty in meaningful discussions about student learning, as opposed to a process whereby information is distributed by a central administrative office and results are expected by fiat.

Feedback: A process in which the results of an assessment process are shared with those who provided the assessment information in the first place.

Static Assessment Policy: An assessment policy in which assessment is used to merely measure learning.

Strategic Assessment: A process that focuses on making choices to maximize interaction, inclusion, conversation, and meaning, especially with faculty as the primary agents.

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