Blog: Tips & Tricks

Using Rubrics at the Institutional Level: Assessing the Assessment

Trudy Milburn September 29, 2015

When I first became a faculty member, our communication studies department was coming up for its 10-year program review. The chair wanted to ensure that the department had copies of course syllabi and updated curriculum vitae. We were also invited to talk with the visiting review team. Other than that, I had little knowledge of, nor involvement in what, exactly was being reviewed. What I have come to learn is that at that time, program reviews were based on what is now considered traditional input measures: quality of the faculty and the rigor of courses offered to students. We’ve come a long way.

Since then, academic departments, like all units of the academic institution, are being asked to demonstrate their effectiveness. Having a cadre of competent and well-credentialed faculty, a rigorous and relevant curriculum, and evidence that students enjoy their courses by positive course evaluations is no longer sufficient. All departments, and sometimes each separate degree program offered within a department, must now provide evidence for several types of outcomes (retention and completion rates figure prominently) and quite significantly, that program learning outcomes are being met.

It is one thing for individual faculty to conduct assignment-related assessment activities, but another for them to be coordinated to illustrate program outcomes in addition to individual course results. Department chairs need easy ways to demonstrate that their department is helping to meet both program and institutional goals and where they might help students to redress gaps in learning. At this juncture, the idea of “assessing the assessment” can be quite useful.

Like students, faculty within departments could use feedback in order to determine how their own assessment activities are working. For instance, as an instructor I have used a variety of assessments in my courses including projects, papers, quizzes, and exams. Rather than focus on particular students who are not achieving optimal levels of performance, program outcomes examine student performance in the aggregate and across multiple sections of courses offered. So, even if I have introduced a technique to improve student performance on learning outcomes in my course, if I don’t share that technique with others, my department’s program outcomes may not improve. Having information about what changes work, and how well they work, can be facilitated by using a program assessment rubric.

Consider the rubric below:

RubricFigure 1: Adapted with permission from Bunker Hill Community College’s Information Technology Committee 2013-14

The above is one example of an institutional rubric that can provide additional information to each program about the actions they have proposed. The rubric can clarify how the proposed action relates to key priorities for the institution; in this example, its mission and its ability to ensure student success. Using a rubric to assess-the-assessment can help department chairs to learn more about how proposed changes to courses or activities within courses can meet significant institutional criteria. It can also be useful to help explain how the actions individual faculty want to take to help improve student learning are weighed in comparison to other proposals and provide more specific guidance for how proposals can be improved in the future.

Examining rubric data that provides clear feedback across programs enables departments to learn how to best articulate what they have learned from conducting assessments locally as well as ways they can improve.

While some institutions share feedback and have these conversations via email or other informal networks, having an organized system like Taskstream to create, conduct, and store reviews helps build institutional memory about what was tried, what worked, and what should be altered to move forward. By storing and aggregating this information over time, the institution gains a window into the successful activities across programs and can help administrators more clearly see the direction the ship is pointing, so to speak.

So, even though I did not benefit from the use of rubrics to assess my own assessment activities in my courses when I first became a faculty member, I recognize its value as I learn more about the many programs on campuses across the country who are currently undertaking this process. If you’re wondering how you can use rubrics to provide institutional assessment feedback in Taskstream, please contact me, or Mentoring Services through help@taskstream.com.

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Trudy Milburn
Taskstream