Steps to Effective Course Assessment
- PLAN: Create measurable outcomes for the course. For example, an outcome for an introductory astronomy course might be that by semester’s end, “Students will calculate the distances between our solar system and two of those closest to ours in light years.” Notice the use of the strong verb, calculate. It is important that outcomes, whether course or program, be introduced with a strong, active verb. The responsibility for the action is up to the student. Using a weak verb, such as understand, know, does not specify action on the student's part. Active engagement and the ability to prove the acquisition of knowledge or skill are the student's responsibilities. (See Bloom's Taxonomy below.) The guiding idea should be “What should the student in my class be able to do by the end of the semester?” when writing an outcome. Notice also that although astronomy is a science course, the activity to fulfill this outcome requires a good deal of math; hence, this outcome clearly addresses the GenEd proficiencies of “mathematical method.”
- ACT: The student must be given opportunities to demonstrate he/she has learned the material or process and can skillfully prove it on an assessment vehicle: an essay, an algebraic formula, a musical score, a scientific experiment, a dance routine, etc. A rubric is usually composed for each specific outcome. In the case of a student being required to play violin according to a musical score, the professor would have a rubric whose criteria would include different levels of musical mastery and performance.
- ANALYZE: The assessment data is gathered from the test or essay or experiment and compared to a moderate benchmark. For example, in the astronomy course, the professor/committee might set a moderate benchmark of 70%, meaning that students are expected to score 70% on the questions or essay or experiment that address the course outcome. This is not necessarily the cumulative grade for the activity. A student could score a 60% on an exam but 90% on the assessment questions, and vice-versa; either way, the professor/committee would have an indication of how well students did specifically on the assessment portion.
The student is not informed about his/her performance on the assessment portion; in fact, neither the students' names nor the professor's name need appear on the report. We assess course and program outcomes in the aggregate.
- ADJUST: As stated on the wheel in the Course Assessment section,“Use the results to review and fine-tune the outcomes and student-learning opportunities.” Going forward with the data from the assessments (generated by the rubric(s) or item analysis), now is the point in the wheel when we determine if we might change an assignment or a text, or even our assessment vehicles and tools. This is not always a call to make changes; however, if one is to be made, it is done on the syllabus or text or unit and noted on the syllabus for the next semester (PLAN) when students' work will again be assessed. For assistance with these steps, please contact the assessment manager or a member of the assessment team.