Major Program Assessment: The Basics

Major-Program Assessment: The Basics

As part of annual review activities, all major programs must assess how well their students are achieving one or more of the program’s learning outcomes. There are actually a range of methods for measuring students’ learning, some of which are discussed among this site’s resources; others are treated on the OAA Assessment site, which also answers general questions about learning-outcomes assessment.

This page provides a more focused entry point for ASC members new to program assessment. Those experienced with program assessment may also benefit by reviewing these updated resources, which reflect recent developments in assessment across the college, university, and academia in general. Below, the following questions are addressed:

The sections below also suggest ways that ASC Curriculum and Assessment Services can support your department’s assessment efforts. You can contact the ASC Assessment Coordinator for answers to questions not addressed below.

Who is Responsible for Assessment?

The Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee (ASCC) oversees and determines polices for assessment across all academic programs within the College of Arts and Sciences. However, the work of assessment is the shared responsibility of all involved in supporting teaching and learning in the college. Here are some examples of common roles involved in assessment (actual responsibilities will vary from program to program):

  • Program directors will need to develop and approve assessment plans and coordinate program resources to ensure related tasks are being completed, including the deployment of assessment instruments, the collection of data, the analysis and reporting of results, and the dissemination of assessment reports or program proposals based on the program’s assessment activities.
  • Departmental curriculum committees may need to develop data-collection and evaluation instruments, such as surveys or rubrics; they may also need to train teams of raters.
  • Teaching faculty and grad-student instructors may need to gather and submit artifacts from courses or serve as evaluators of student coursework being used for program assessment; instructors may also be asked to create assignments to measure particular program outcomes.
  • Advising staff may need to collect and share information about students with the program’s assessment administrators to identify appropriate samples of the population (e.g., graduating seniors), or to make the interpretation of assessment results more meaningful and actionable.
  • Advisory board members may be asked to help refine program outcomes, rate student artifacts, comment on assessment plans, and suggest changes based on reported results.
  • Departmental support staff may need to deploy technologies used to collect data, pre-process data prior to formal rating and analysis, disseminate reports to stakeholders, or enter results into the university’s common assessment management system.  

Those taking on the roles listed above—not to mention the students themselves—would be considered the core “stakeholders” of the program: that is, individuals and groups who have committed time, energy, and other resources to its success. For assessment to be a constructive activity, it helps to have multiple stakeholders involved in the conversations about assessment, engaged in the processes of conducting assessments, and talking about how to better the program based on assessment results

ASC Curriculum and Assessment Services can provide consultation on how to coordinate the various efforts involved in program assessment.

When Do Assessment Activities Take Place?

Although assessment activities work best when integrated into the routines of an academic department, there are some specific deliverables occurring at predictable moments in the lifecycle of the program and in the annual workflow, once a program begins operating:

  • While developing a program proposal: For a new program or a program update to be approved, an assessment plan needs to be submitted to the curricular approval committees. The plan should present a feasible assessment cycle ensuring all proposed learning outcomes are evaluated with the appropriate methods over a three-year period. For more guidelines on assessment planning see “Major-Program Assessment: Developing Assessment Plans.”
  • In preparing courses and personnel involved in assessment activities: Besides having an initial plan for gathering data about students and their achievements, administrators need to design, develop, and deploy data-collection and evaluation instruments (e.g., surveys and rubrics) and communicate procedures to instructors teaching courses that are a part of assessment activities. This step usually entails training of relevant personnel administering the assessment instruments, including instructors doing embedded assessments or raters outside these courses.
  • Throughout the academic year: Assessments are based on data generated by or about students, so most of the data collection takes place while students are taking courses in the Autumn and Spring terms. And since many program stakeholders are also on a traditional academic calendar, data analysis and interpretation activities commonly occur immediately following each term or at the end of the Spring term, when all the previous year’s data can be analyzed together.
  • During the summer following an academic year: The analysis and interpretation of results may extend beyond the end of the Spring term. In any case, major programs submit reports on their assessment activities during the summer. These reports are disseminated to stakeholders in the department and uploaded to the university’s assessment reporting system (Nuventive).
  • At the start of the following academic year: After the assessment reports are disseminated, program stakeholders will need to discuss what, if anything, is to be done based on the results of the assessment. This discussion can, of course, occur at any time of the year, but it makes sense to address the most recent assessment results soon after the assessment takes place.

As you can see, even if taking place “behind the scenes” of coursework, research, and other activities, program assessment works best when it’s integrated into the normal workflow of the department.

For a more a more detailed discussion of when various kinds of assessment activities should take place, please consult “Major Program Assessment: Annual Routine”.

What Is Assessment Used For?

Assessment is commonly viewed as driving the program development and improvement cycle (depicted in the image to the right), a cycle that starts after the programs goals and learning outcomes have initially been approved. So, one obvious use of assessment results is to reveal the level to which students are actually achieving the outcomes for a program, thereby identifying potential areas for improvement (e.g., in coursework, in advising, etc.). The list below provides just a handful of examples of how assessment activities and results serve both to confirm the right kinds of learning is taking place and to inform administrators of how to improve student learning and program operations:

  • To support accreditation: Higher-ed accreditors and state education agencies expect assessment to occur across the university and for major programs especially. Moreover, some programs have specialized accreditors expecting even more rigorous kinds of assessment activities. Assessment reports confirm that a program is doing all it can to deliver on its charter.
  • To learn what is working: Each program is made of many moving parts, including the contributions of all the stakeholders listed above, university and college administrative support staff, course materials, technologies, and so on. The results of an assessment can help confirm that the pieces are coming together effectively and not working at cross purposes.
  • To determine specific gaps and needs: The results can also identify where different parts of the system might need tweaks, or even a thorough overhaul. When an assessment is designed effectively, such information about shortcomings can be used as well to support requests for resources or proposals for larger changes to the curriculum.
  • To spark meaningful conversations amongst program stakeholders: These conversations can be about how courses, policies, or other elements might be adjusted to better serve students. But the very of process of conducting assessments often leads to constructive dialogue about program values and priorities. For instance, the collaborative development of evaluative rubrics or survey questions encourages individuals to talk with their colleagues about what’s important.  

ASC Curriculum and Assessment Services can provide consultation on how to use various methods and protocols to target more strategic questions that go beyond the fundamental interest in outcomes achievement.

How Do I Get Started?

If you’ve been charged with leading assessment or supporting assessment for an ASC program, there are a few things you can do to come up to speed.

  • Familiarize yourself with the basics of learning-outcomes assessment by reviewing the “Assessment” page on the Office of Academic Affairs website.
  • Review the following ASC-CAS pages, which will help you determine how to plan your assessment activities:
  • Enroll in Nuventive.Improve training. This platform is used to submit assessment results and activity summaries to the Office of Academic Affairs. Training sessions will appear on BuckeyeLearn.
  • Review your unit’s previous assessment submissions. Some of this information can be found in the Nuventive.Improve system, but ultimately the location of fuller resources will depend on how the department managed assessment in the past. Past reporting can reveal which courses or data-collection procedures have been used for assessment in previous years.
  • Set up a consultation with the ASC Assessment Coordinator. See links above and on the right-hand menu.