Principles of Student Assessment in Adult Education

Principles of Student Assessment in Adult Education

James B. Martin (Army’s Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-906-0.ch040
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Any discussion of the topic of assessment of student learning is bound to be marked by strong opinions, marked differences, or total apathy. This topic, critical anywhere in higher education, is even more important in adult learning than anywhere else. With the greater potential for non-traditional programs in adult education, the ability to show the quality of student learning is critical. This chapter examines five principles of assessment of adult learning and provides insight into viable programmatic assessment. By applying the principles, the assessment strategies provided take into account the characteristics of adult learners and design a program that is suited for assessing adult learners. While some application of classroom assessment techniques for adult learners is included, the emphasis of the chapter is on programmatic assessment.
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“Outcome-based education” - this term, denoting the idea of basing curriculum and teaching methods on desired educational or behavioral outcomes, brings out a variety of reactions. An article in a British journal examined at length an ongoing and heated debate in their higher education community about the worth and ethical nature of outcomes-based education and the assessment program that comes with it (Ecclestone, 1999). The article swung back and forth between the individuals who believed that the creation of outcomes provided the noose with which to strangle the liberal tradition of education in British colleges and those who believed that an increased level of accountability was necessary from the higher education community.

This British argument is now ten years old, but it continues to this day in the U.S. Many a faculty member in this country would agree with those British academics who argue against setting outcomes for courses or programs because of the possibility of their intellectual freedom in the classroom being restricted due to the requirement to assess student learning. They choose to fight against what makes them uncomfortable and challenges their beliefs as to what is necessary to educate a student in their discipline. This portrayal of their stance may ring true with many administrators, but one article on the topic of assessment expressed the opinion that the problem lies elsewhere. Kurz and Banta (2004) identify the fact that faculty members are experts in their chosen field and unless that field is assessment they have little background in the creation or use of high quality assessment instruments. This lack of experience and comfort with assessment produces a reticence to use it and potentially even mistrust of it. Others, including most accrediting bodies, see a need to measure effectiveness of education through a more structured system. One of the most accepted ways to measure such effectiveness is to set identifiable and measurable learning outcomes at the course and program level and plan for the use of assessment instruments to provide evidence of student learning. Largely because of this growing need to provide some level of accountability the idea of outcomes-based education has become widely accepted in the American educational culture. This is particularly true in adult education programs, which are much more likely to use accelerated learning models to compress the time it takes working adults to complete degree programs. If these programs can demonstrate that their students can master the same learning outcomes as students in similar traditional programs, but in an accelerated schedule, then they can argue that the educations are equivalent.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Direct Assessment: An assessment of a student’s demonstrated ability to perform specific tasks or relate material in an acceptable manner compared to learning outcomes.

Indirect Assessment: An assessment which does not directly measure a student’s ability to perform, but gathers data from other sources to determine how well the outcomes of a course or program were achieved.

Formative Assessment: An assessment that is used to create change or improvement in whatever process was evaluated.

Outcomes-Based Education: The idea of basing curriculum and teaching methods on desired educational or behavioral outcomes.

Learning Outcome: A statement of what a learner can be expected to know, understand and/or do as a result of a learning experience.

Summative Assessment: An assessment that is used for the broader purpose of examining the entire program and determining its relative merits and future.

Programmatic Assessment: An assessment that is focused on learning outcomes which are identified for an entire program, not merely a course or module.

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