Friday, March 06, 2009

Assessing the Elephant

There's a strongly felt opinion about presented in InsideHigherEd's March 2 piece "Who really pays for assessment?" The subtext is "is the time we're spending on this activity worth the cost?" It's not a great sign for our industry that the author felt the need to remain anonymous. I recently compared accreditation visitors' judgment of your assessment plans to the Spanish Inquisition, so "Unfunded Mandate," I feel your pain.

In fact, a very basic kind of assessment need not be expensive either in dollars or time. The methods we developed at my former institution (Coker College) would serve in any small-class setting. It won't work for class sizes of over about 25 probably. There's a second chapter appearing about it, in a 'best practices' book, this summer. But you can read my extended thoughts on it in Assessing the Elephant. I have plans to turn this into a real book, maybe this summer.

Key design elements are:
  • Assess based on existing class work. Some prefer this to be at the assignment level, but we used the whole course as the basis for judgment.
  • Assessments are subjective judgments based on general rubrics made by course instructors.
  • The scale of assessments is based on traditional sequencing of undergrads: remedial, fresh/soph, jr/sr, and graduate.
  • Assessment results are not used by the administration as a stick (to avoid tainting results)
  • Assess skills that are demonstrated in a class, not just where they are taught.
  • Use a dead-simple method of gathering data. It shouldn't take more than 5 min per class per semester.
You can read some of the statistics on validity and reliability in the document linked above.

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