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Departments Plan Course Assessment

by Vera Zdravkovich, Vice President for Instruction

Instead of concentrating on how we are teaching, [in a learning centered college] the focus shifts to measuring how well students are learning. . . . By defining the knowledge and skills we expect students to have mastered by the time they leave us, we clarify our expectations.

Community College Journal, August/September 2001, p. 3

After two years of limited assessment of a small number of courses, the assessment process has been expanded so that all departments participate. This fall each department is preparing an assessment plan to pilot in one course. During spring semester, the departments will implement their assessment plans. This year’s pilot will provide experience for developing assessments for additional courses next year.

The purpose of the assessment is to determine how well students are learning the outcomes specified in the course master syllabus. The assessment will provide the departments with this opportunity. The assessment will not only document student learning, but also identify areas in which the course can be improved, if improvement is needed.

What the Departments Will Be Doing This Year
Beginning this year, all departments will be fully involved in the assessment process with a full agenda of activities. This year the departments will complete their revisions of course master syllabi by writing learning outcomes in behavioral terms: "Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to . . . ."

  • Develop and implement an assessment for one course that determines if the outcomes are being learned and how well they are being learned. Tests and assignments currently used in the course may be a good base for the assessment.
  • Analyze the results of the course assessment to determine what improvement, if any, should be made to the course to facilitate student learning, before the course is taught again.
  • Begin developing an assessment program to use with other courses next year.

What Support the Departments Will Receive
I have appointed Bill Peirce to coordinate all phases of the syllabi revision/assessment plan process and the work of the Academic Outcomes Assessment Committee (AOAC). Liaisons from the AOAC have been assigned to each department. Planning forms and samples of "Some Ways Other Colleges Assess Learning Outcomes" have been distributed to all department chairs. See Bill's article in this issue of the Instructional Forum.

The AOAC will continue to review the revised master syllabi. The committee also will review each department’s assessment plan to determine if it complies with the planning form. 

What Commitment the Departments Will Make to Assessment
When the department chairs turn in the planning form with the necessary related materials to Bill Peirce on October 29, they are assuring that:

  • The course master syllabus identifies the course learning outcomes.
  • All instructors are addressing the course learning outcomes and assessing how well students have mastered them.
  • The department has planned an assessment to gather evidence about students' success in learning the course outcomes.
  • The department intends to use the information obtained from implementing the assessment to improve student learning.

Tests and assignments that you already use in your courses will probably be a good base for this internal audit.

What the Benefits Are of an Internal Assessment Plan

  • Every faculty member benefits from assessing student outcomes on a wider scale than his or her own classroom.
  • Systematic assessment provides evidence for departmental reflection and renewal.
  • A good assessment has great potential for improving how well students learn what the faculty teach by providing detailed information about students’ strengths and weaknesses.
  • With the results from the assessment, faculty can pinpoint the areas where individual courses need revising—perhaps by changing the syllabus, involving adjuncts to a greater degree, adopting additional teaching methods, buying lab equipment, revising placement procedures, or improving some other feature.

A good assessment plan systematically carried out, and a thoughtful analysis of the assessment results provide faculty members with the information necessary to know how to best revise a course, if revision is necessary. If the assessment results confirm that large numbers of students are learning well, then both the department chair and the faculty members teaching the course can feel a justified satisfaction in what they are doing. Good assessment reinforces high standards and high expectations.


The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 17, No. 1

Fall 2001