Understanding the role of assessment in instruction is critical to discovering valuable information that can impact and improve your higher education institution. Meaningful assessments reveal useful details about student experiences, teaching practices, campus culture and community, and more. By reflecting on this information, you can discover where your institution is lacking and where it is excelling.
What is an assessment professional?
The term “assessment” has expanded to mean more than standardized exams and performance tests. Assessments measure what students can do, what they know, and how it impacts the institution. Colleges and universities use this information to discover group patterns and understand how students learn.
Assessment professionals have taken the lead in providing evidence of student learning. They typically work in full-time positions for higher education institutions. They may be administrators or other faculty with job titles such as assessment specialist, director of assessment, or assessment coordinator. Assessment professionals focus most of their functions on programs and institutions, including grants, student learning, accreditation, planning, institutional effectiveness, and academic program review.
What do assessment activities teach us?
Well-done assessment activities contribute to improving and understanding student success and learning. They uncover deficiencies and identify strengths in educational models. Institutions can use this data to enhance students' relationships and their studies. Practitioners in assessment positions can use these activities to help their institution:
- Understand the student experience: Assessment practitioners can determine whether students are learning meaningful information by evaluating exams and self-reported surveys. Students may underperform but say they enjoy the curriculum when surveyed, which indicates a discrepancy your institution needs to identify.
- Refine instruction methods: Course evaluations can indicate when students feel overwhelmed, desire change, or are struggling to retain information. Students who consistently score low on assignments and exams may not see the value in learning outcomes. Instructors should reconfigure courses to emphasize this importance for future careers and success.
- Shape measurement approaches: As students identify where your institution is excelling and where it is lacking, you can determine the challenges you need to address immediately. As you implement changes, you can shape your measurement approaches to reflect the most essential information and outcomes and decide whether you've addressed concerns effectively.
The importance of assessment activities in higher ed
Assessment activities do more than show direct student results from class instruction. Though those statistics play a significant role in setting campus initiatives, they are only part of the equation. Comprehensive assessments take a deep dive into an institution to show the effectiveness of teaching practices, highlight student comprehension, acknowledge pain points, and ultimately create a more rewarding experience.
Consider these benefits of using assessment for professional standards.
- Developing rationale for instructional practices: Educators can evaluate whether their teaching methods are effective and adjust curricula to maximize student retention. Instructors can discuss practices with colleagues to craft an engaging curriculum for all courses.
- Assessing student comprehension: Exams, essays, tests, and assignments are effective evaluation practices to understand student learning. Institutions can gauge whether learners are engaging in their studies or feeling disinterested or overwhelmed.
- Receiving student feedback: When you listen to students and understand their needs, you can take steps to improve retention and encourage growth, which helps produce well-rounded graduates who are ready to jump into their careers and reach their goals.
- Creating holistic educational pathways: Assessments enable administrators to understand the student experience beyond academics, including their personal goals, internal desires, and external challenges. Appreciating these obstacles and motivations can lead to cultivating a unique success pathway for each student that aligns with their interests.
- Encouraging professional development: Believe it or not, conducting assessments wasn't always a common practice in higher ed. To ensure all levels of your institution see assessment value, workshops, training sessions, and additional professional development may be necessary. These programs can guide your staff and faculty to discover relevant practices and hone new skills.
Types of assessments professionals perform
Assessment professionals evaluate higher education institutions at several different levels using two general types of assessments:
- Summative: Summative assessments provide insight into how well institutional infrastructure, such as instructional tools and curriculum design, impacts student learning. This assessment type typically uses a scoring or grading system to measure effectiveness.
- Formative: These are low-stakes assessments that help track student progress and provide insight into individual strengths and weaknesses. Formative assessments are essential for planning instruction programs.
1. Student assessments
Assessing student progress throughout their time at the institution helps stakeholders get a general idea of how well students achieve the key learning objectives of each program. Typically, assessment professionals evaluate student performance at two levels:
- Within courses: By assessing the student's progress within a specific course, assessment professionals can gain insight into the course's overall impact on the student's learning. It also provides insight into a professor's ability to effectively teach the course material, which is important for broader assessments such as course and program assessments.
- Across courses: At this level, assessment professionals examine how a student progresses throughout their course of study. This data helps identify development gaps in the student's learning, which is vital information for designing remediation programs.
2. Course assessments
At this level, assessment professionals use both formative and summative assessments to evaluate whether individual courses:
- Are relevant to the overall program.
- Effectively prepare students for more advanced courses.
- Help students meet basic learning objectives for their programs.
- Learn the information and skills they need for success.
3. Program assessments
A program assessment involves evaluating how well each course contributes to the expected learning outcomes for the whole course of study. Important considerations at this level include:
- Program relevance.
- Learning outcomes.
- Course organization.
Summative program assessments also enable stakeholders to determine how well each academic program advances the institution's goals as a whole.
4. Institutional assessments
Assessment professionals examine how well an institution prepares its students for success after graduation. This high-level overview helps establish new processes that will position the school for continuous improvement.
6 tips for assessment professionals
Preparing, crafting, conducting, and reviewing meaningful assessments can be challenging for some. Assessment professionals who are solely responsible for these tasks may lose valuable information in oversight. Review these tips to make the process more efficient as you prepare to gather new assessment data.
1. Encourage faculty data collection
Make sure your staff takes action to collect data. Neglecting to collect and review data can result in losing opportunities regarding decision-making, educational planning, student learning, and resource allocation. When only a fraction of your staff and faculty understand the importance of data collection and review, you may experience resistance, making change difficult. Provide training sessions, workshops, or other development opportunities to ensure your staff understands assessment competence.
Teachers should look for opportunities to encourage students to self-reflect and review course and instructor evaluations in the classroom. Doing so will enable students to form deeper connections with their studies while helping educators become aware of student concerns. Without feedback, instructors cannot effectively work to improve their curricula. Once instructors are aware of the pain points in their teaching methods, they can start addressing them.
2. Use direct and indirect measurements
Comprehensive assessments will use indirect and direct strategies to measure student learning. You should ensure your institution uses both metrics to create an all-encompassing image of your institution and student success. They are vital to the data collection process and will enable you to make decisions that address concerns while combating academic obstacles.
Direct measurement will provide tangible, quantitative proof of student learning, such as projects, essays, and exams. Over time, you can reflect on these to track trends and gain insight into what students can do and how much they know.
Indirect measurements supplement direct measurements by assessing thoughts or opinions regarding student skills and knowledge. Examples include success indicators such as graduation rates, course evaluations, self-reported surveys, and job replacement rates. Indirect measurements encourage students, faculty members, and graduates to vocalize their opinions on program success, course effectiveness, and the entire institution.
3. Focus on meaningful feedback
Each assessment should have a clear purpose, and questions should reflect the information you want to obtain. For example, if a survey aims to evaluate an instructor's teaching effectiveness, questions about campus culture or dorm buildings would not be relevant. Though those questions may be perfect for an assessment regarding campus community, they will not help you discover new information about educators.
Additionally, you should continue using the same questions over time to gauge any positive or negative changes. You can use the surveys from multiple semesters to determine if students are responding positively to the changes your instructors are making in the classroom. Keeping the questions consistent will enable you to make direct comparisons.
4. Create a consistent assessment schedule
Creating an assessment schedule benefits your institution and those answering the questions. You can stay organized when you have a consistent schedule and prepare your students and faculty for assessment administration. Consider administering your assessments around the same time at the end of every semester. That way, students will have ample time to form opinions about their courses, and educators will have opportunities to reconsider their teaching methods.
Additionally, regularly administering assessments lets your students know you care about them and their experiences. By consistently asking what your institution can do to provide the best educational journey, your students may realize they can have a hand in shaping their futures with academic professionals who want to see them succeed.
Creating digital assessments for courses and instructors increases the likelihood that more students will respond. When students can provide feedback on their time and feel confident that their identity will remain anonymous, they may be more likely to give more thoughtful and accurate answers.
5. Understand assessment demands
The form of each assessment requires students and faculty to respond accordingly. Some assessment forms demand little preparation, while others are much more time-consuming. When constructing an assessment, you must understand these demands.
Timed assessments, such as exams and tests, require students to showcase their knowledge. Though some students may naturally excel at retaining information, others will resort to last-minute cramming or spending hours to ensure comprehension. While these assessments act as direct measurements for institutions, they are not the sole indicators of success.
Self-assessments encourage students to develop judgment about their abilities and knowledge. Institutions can foster a sense of ownership and responsibility by encouraging students to evaluate their work and decide whether they performed their best or could have done better. Initially, many students may resist self-assessment attempts because they lack confidence in their skills. However, they can gain a more profound understanding of what they do well over time. Students may compile portfolios, learner diaries, reflection logs, and more.
Course evaluations and instructor surveys likely require the least time and effort for students to complete. Although these assessments can provide much information regarding classroom and institution strengths and weaknesses, not every student will answer accurately. Some students may complete the minimum to turn in the evaluation, while others may neglect it entirely. Institutions should shape these assessments to make them more desirable for students. That could mean limiting the number of questions, making the evaluation virtually available, giving participants time in class to complete the questions, or another method of engaging students.
6. Effectively communicate findings to stakeholders
Institutional assessments are about more than simply gathering data — you need to demonstrate why this data matters to your most important stakeholders.
Here are some tips for presenting assessment outcomes:
- Use visuals: Visual elements, such as graphs and tables, help convey your findings in a clear, attractive way. You can also change your visuals based on the specific audience you're speaking to.
- Tell a story: Everyone loves a good story, and your assessment results can help you tell one about your institution. By connecting the data points you evaluated, you can create a compelling, cohesive story that encourages action on the part of your stakeholders.
- Ask for feedback: Stakeholder feedback can shed light on whether your assessment achieved your objectives, which can help you hone the process for further assessments.
Ways to use assessments at your institution
Now that you know how to create meaningful assessments and why they're beneficial, you must also consider how you plan to use them to improve your institution. The information you've gathered won't be valuable unless you know how to inspire change with the results. You can use your data to create new goals, set your sights on improving institution initiatives, and create a more enriching student experience.
1. Increase collaboration
Assessments are excellent places to open the floor for institution-wide collaboration. As staff and faculty discuss their findings, they can work to develop unique answers. Each staff member will bring a unique perspective to the conversation, and as ideas bounce around, you may realize it's much easier to find a practical solution when your staff is working together.
An increase in cooperation may make it easier to implement departmental changes. As instructors transition from one teaching model to another, they can reflect on outcomes with colleagues to discuss which practices are working and which are not. As more people become aware of the pain points and reflect on possible solutions, the quicker it will be to develop a model that maximizes student retention and engagement.
2. Create ePortfolios
You can encourage students to complete self-assessments by creating ePortfolios. These end-of-semester assessments encourage students to link their educational experiences with their goals, interests, and career plans. They represent an effective way to create a self-assessment and ensure students have something tangible to show prospective employers. Through ePortfolios, students can demonstrate how much work they've put into their studies, where they've excelled, and what they've learned.
Additionally, ePortfolios are an effective way to measure student engagement with a course. Instructors can evaluate which activities students found more meaningful, what assignments they enjoyed, and how well students think they did when completing a task.
3. Drive change
Ultimately, you want to use your data to drive change and make improvements at your institution. The goal is to create enriching environments and encourage students to complete their studies. If you use what you've learned to improve your campus, you're on the right path.
Change at your institution may involve the following:
- Creating new programs: Foster a sense of community and encourage students to explore new interests.
- Setting new student goals: Perhaps you need to reevaluate your current goals to make them more attainable while inspiring students to push past their limits.
- Questioning contradictions: Notice when students are falling behind and get to the bottom of the issue. Perhaps a recent departmental change has made coursework challenging, or instructors have become unavailable for additional assistance. Establish a precedent that enables students and staff alike to stay engaged.
- Creating holistic experiences: Students are all different, so a one-size-fits-all policy just won't work. Students need personalized success pathways that can help them reach their goals and pursue their interests in a way that meets their unique needs.
4. Demonstrate institutional value
Assessments provide concrete evidence of your institution's ability to benefit your students, which is vital for securing funding and retaining students. When your stakeholders — including students, parents, administrators, trustees, and donors — see how committed your institution is to student growth and success, they'll be more likely to engage fully with you. Increased engagement can help encourage you to push your limits and grow even more.
Drive institutional change with Watermark
Watermark has spent the last 20 years helping higher education institutions collect data and learn from it. Our experience has enabled us to craft innovative solutions that empower colleges and universities to discover and support meaningful practices.
Watermark Course Evaluations & Surveys allows you to quickly capture and analyze student feedback so you can find solutions faster. Our software will translate responses into actionable insights to improve learning and teaching outcomes. You can automatically distribute data to instructors, administrators, and teaching assistants to keep your entire staff in the know.
Our software seamlessly integrates with many student information systems, so your institution can build on your existing technology. You can boost student response rates to make completing evaluations, surveys, and other assessments as easy as possible. With more students completing the assessment, you can gather extra feedback to improve your institution.
Request a demo of Course Evaluations & Surveys and begin gathering meaningful student data for your institution. We've made collecting and reviewing your information easy so you can start setting new goals as quickly as possible.
About the AuthorMore Content by Watermark Insights