Faculty Meeting on Assessment

In February 2007, the College held a faculty discussion meeting on assessment of student learning. Committee on Learning Assessment (COLA) prepared the following Questions & Answers for the meeting, providing general information on assessment at the College.

Message from 2007 COLA Chair:

Dear colleagues, 

We hope that the following set of questions and answers will be helpful to you in understanding the context of assessing student learning at the College. Should you have any questions/comments, please feel free to contact us. Thank you.

  -------Janet Riggs, Chair, Committee on Learning Assessment (COLA)

General Questions

1. We have always been assessing student learning. Why are we making a big deal of it NOW?

2. Does the College have a plan for assessing student learning?

3. What are the spheres of learning that should be assessed? 

4. Who is responsible for assessing student learning in the four spheres?

5. What is the status/progress in our assessment of student learning since our most recent re-accreditation in 2004? 

6. How do co-curricular goals relate to the general education curriculum?

7. Does the Middle States Commission on Higher Educaiton (MSCHE) prescribe specific methodologies for assessing student learning?

8. What are the expectations for good assessment practice?

For Individual Instructors

 9. I give grades. Isn't that enough?

10. In general education outcomes assessment at the College level, what am I expected to do?

11. Will COLA's review of my (general education) course syllabus and student work collected from my course affect my official faculty evaluation?

For Department Chairs/Program Coordinators

12. In general education outcomes assessment at the College level, what I am expected to do? 

13. Do I need to periodically report information on assessment of student learning conducted at the departmental level? 

14. When should I report such information?

15. What should be included in the assessment portion of the departmental self-study?

16. Do departments have to use nationally normed tests of achievement in assessing learning in a major? 

17. Are departments encouraged to use multiple measures of student learning in a major?  

Sources of Information for FAQs

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1.  We have always been assessing student learning. Why are we making a big deal of it NOW?

Assessment of student learning is not something new. Yet we need systematically to gather more evidence to demonstrate students' achievement of learning outcomes to fulfill two obligations:

  • Obligations to Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); and  
  • Our own obligations to measure the extent to which we are achieving our curricular goals.

Since 1921, Gettysburg College has been a member of MSCHE--one of the six regional accrediting groups. In recent years, MSCHE has been paying increased attention to assessment of student learning. One of the 14 Standards for Accreditation published by MSCHE, for example, deals specifically with assessment of student learning. The increased expectations from MSCHE mirror the evolution of higher education across the nation. Today assessment of student learning is becoming a prominent theme for accreditation agencies and policy discussions at the federal level. All this, along with responses from MSCHE based on the College's most recent self-study (in 2003), requires that we strengthen our efforts to conduct, document, and use assessment of student learning at multiple levels in a more systematic manner.                                          

2Does the College have a plan for assessment of student learning?

Yes. In 2003, as part of the College's self-study, faculty members, administrators, trustee, and student developed the "Gettysburg College Assessment Plan for Learning Outcomes" (hereafter, the Plan).

3.  What are the spheres of learning that should be assessed?

The Plan identifies four interrelated spheres/levels of learning to be assessed:

  • Individual academic courses offered by faculty
  • Majors (and minors) offered by academic departments and programs
  • The baccalaureate degree, especially general education, including the specific graduation requirements
  • Co-curricular programs                      

4Who is responsible for assessing student learning in the four spheres?

According to the Plan, "The responsibility of the assessment of learning rests on anyone and everyone who is engaged in deliberate activities, who is responsible for constructing arrangements that further learning. This includes not only faculty, instructional assistants, College Life staff, and academic administrators, but also students......"

The following persons/committees have a primary responsibility for each sphere indicated above:

  • Individual academic courses offered by faculty--Course instructors
  • Majors (and minors) offered by academic departments/programs--department/program faculty
  • The baccalaureate degree, especially general education, including specific graduation requirements (e. g. capstone projects)--COLA in collaboration with faculty
  • Co-curricular programs--Co-Curricular Learning Assessment Group (CLAG, a subcommittee of COLA) and directors in College Life Division and Enrollment & Educational Services Division

The Office of Institutional Analysis periodically assesses student learning outcomes at the College level through surveys and other methods and serves as a central repository for assessment reports, studies, and other related efforts.                Back to the Top

5What is the status/progress in our assessment of student learning since our most recent re-accreditation in 2004? 

In 2003, as part of the College's self-study, the College developed the Plan. COLA, chaired by the Provost, was then appointed to monitor and coordinate all learning assessment activities in compliance with the Plan, to conduct the assessment of specific overarching general education learning goals, and to create and support a "culture of assessment" at the College.

Assessment of student learning at the course level has been an on-going process. Individual instructors articulate specific learning goals in their course syllabus, evaluate student work, and award grades according to those goals. Additionally, since 2003, the College has been using a standard course evaluation form (with supplemental questions added by the departments/instructors) which enables instructors to assess teaching processes and students to self-assess their learning. Instructors are expected to use the results of the course evaluation to modify the delivery of a course.

Assessment of learning in the majors: Starting from Class 2008 (cohort entering in Fall 2004), the College has been requiring graduating seniors to complete a Capstone Project in Major as part of their graduation requirements. Departments evaluate these projects to determine the level of student achievement upon completion of the major requirements. Additionally, since 2003-2004, departments have been required to include a section on assessment of student learning in their program review (self-study and external review; seven-year cycle), including shared learning goals for the major/minor, means of assessment, and results. COLA has been reviewing such information since 2004-2005. COLA's next step is to collect samples of Capstone Projects to assess the extent to which students fulfill the four general education goals.

Assessment of general education outcomes: Since its formation in 2003, COLA has articulated learning outcomes for the general education Curriculum (The Gettysburg Curriculum) and has been developing protocols to assess them. COLA's next step is to collect data to assess the extent to which students achieve the four overarching goals (Multiple Inquiries, Integrative Thinking, Effective Communication, Global & Local Citizenship).

Assessment of co-curricular learning: In 2003, CLAG developed a co-curricular learning assessment plan. During 2003-04, CLAG articulated co-curricular learning goals and outcomes. Since 2004-05, CLAG has been collecting evidence of student learning in co-curricular programs from the College Life and Enrollment & Educational Services Divisions. Each program director is expected to submit an annual assessment report to CLAG using a standard reporting template (adopted in 2005-2006). 

The Office of Institutional Analysis has been collecting and disseminating indirect evidence of student learning outcomes through surveys (student self-assessment) in an on-going manner. COLA and CLAG have been reviewing such evidence regularly. It has also created the Assessment Website.               Back to the Top

6How do co-curricular goals relate to the general education curriculum?

Many of the co-curricular programs of the College are intended to reinforce the declared learning goals of the baccalaureate curriculum. 

7.  Does MSCHE prescribe specific methodologies for assessing student learning?

No. While MSCHE expects institutions to assess student learning, it does not prescribe a specific approach or methodology. Each institution is responsible for articulating its expected learning outcomes, strategies for achieving them at each level (institutional, program, and course), and assessment methodologies.                   

8.  What are the expectations for good assessment practice?

MSCHE clearly states that effective assessment processes should be: useful, truthful and reasonably accurate, carefully planned, organized, systematic, sustained, and cost-effective. Specifically (The following is taken from MSCHE document):

  • Useful assessment processes help faculty and staff make appropriate decisions about improving programs/services and developing goals and plans. Because institutions, their students, and their environments are continually evolving, effective assessments cannot be static; they must be reviewed periodically and adapted in order to remain useful.
  • Truthful and reasonably accurate assessment processes yield results that can be used with confidence to make appropriate decisions. Because there is no one perfectly accurate assessment tool or strategy, institutions should use multiple measures to assess goal achievement. Assessments may be quantitative or qualitative and developed locally or by an external organization. All assessment tools and strategies should clearly relate to the goals they are assessing and should be developed with care; they should be neither merely anecdotal information nor collections of information that happens to be on hand. Strategies to assess student learning should include direct--clear, visible, and convincing--evidence, rather than solely indirect evidence of student learning such as surveys and focus groups.
  • Planned assessment processes that are purposefully linked to institutional goals promote attention to those goals and plans and ensure that disappointing outcomes are appropriately addressed.
  • Organized, systematized, and sustained assessment processes are ongoing, not once-and-done. There should be clear interrelationships among institutional goals, program- and unit-level goals, and course level goals.
  • Cost-effective assessment processes yield dividends that justify the institution's investment in them, particularly in terms of faculty and staff time. To this end, institutions may begin by considering assessment measures or indicators already in place, such as retention and graduation rates, job placement rates, and surveys. New or refined measures may then be added for those goals for which evidence of achievement is not already available, concentrating on the institution's most important goals. Effective assessments are simple rather than elaborate, and they may focus on just a few key goals in each program, unit, and curriculum.                         Back to the Top  

                                             For Individual Instructors

9I give grades. Isn't that enough?  

No. MSCHE states that: "Student learning assessment processes should yield direct--clear, visible, and convincing--evidence of student learning. Tangible examples of student learning, such as completed tests, assignments, projects, portfolios, licensure examinations, and field experience evaluations, are direct evidence of student learning. Indirect evidence, including retention, graduation, and placement rates and surveys of students and alumni, can be vital to understanding the teaching-learning process and student success (or lack thereof), but such information alone is insufficient evidence of student learning unless accompanied by direct evidence." Grades alone are not sufficient evidence, "as a skeptic might claim that high grades are solely the result of lax standards. But the assignments and evaluations that form the basis for grades can be direct evidence if they are accompanied by clear evaluation criteria that have a demonstrable relationship to key learning goals."

                                 For Department Chairs/Program Coordinators

10In general education outcomes assessment at the College level, what am I expected to do?

  • If you are teaching course(s) fulfilling the general education goals (i. e. designated courses approved by APPC): Multiple Inquiries, Integrative Thinking, Effective Communication, and Global & Local Citizenship, you will, during certain years, be requested to submit copies of your course syllabus to COLA and help COLA collect samples of student work. Faculty representatives will review these syllabi or student work in alignment with declared learning goals.  
  • You might be assigned by your department chair to review Senior Capstone Projects or student work for general education courses collected by COLA.                 Back to the Top

11Will COLA's review of my (general education) course syllabus and student work collected from my course affect my official faculty evaluation?

No. However, COLA hopes that the assessment results will potentially serve as useful feedback for your teaching outside the formal evaluation process. 

12In general education outcomes assessment at the College level, what I am expected to do?

  • Assign faculty members from your department/program to review capstone projects and student work for general education courses collected by COLA.

13Do I need to periodically report information on assessment of student learning conducted at the departmental/program level?

 Yes.

14When should I report such information?

  •  In departmental self-studies. COLA reviews such information and provides feedback to departments/programs.
  • Additionally, COLA encourages departments/programs to regularly review information on assessment of student learning (e. g., in retreats).                              

15.  What should be included in the assessment portion of the departmental self-study?  

This portion should include four key components:

  • Outcomes: What knowledge and abilities do you expect your students to demonstrate upon completing the requirements of the major? Which learning outcomes did you assess during a particular academic year (or years)?
  • Methods: What methods did you use to collect and analyze data to determine the attainment of the learning outcomes or to assess learning processes/environments?
  • Results: What have you found? How did you interpret such findings? What are the implications?
  • Utilization: Based on the assessment results, what are the actions/changes you have implemented/are implementing/are planning to implement to enhance student learning?

16Do departments/programs have to use nationally normed tests of achievement in assessing student learning in a major? 

No. 

17Are departments/programs encouraged to use multiple measures of student learning in a major?  

Yes, for example, a department/program might use capstone projects, internship evaluations, job placement rates, and surveys and interviews of graduating seniors and alumni as evidence of student learning in a major.          Back to the Top

Compiled by Office of Institutional Analysis, 02/15/2007

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sources of information:

  • Gettysburg College Assessment Plan for Learning Outcomes (2003)
  • COLA documents and discussions
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education documents