Enhancing and improving educational practices, processes, and policies as a result of evidence-based decision-making and change implementation is the purpose of the assessment process, and is the main crux of the assessment cycle. The documentation of the process and resulting decision-making is important for being organized, transparent, and accountable.
A critical component of effective assessment is the planning process. Planning is important because when it takes place, proper attention is given to all aspects of the assessment process:
- Appropriate methodology considering the goal or outcome being assessed
- Data analysis needs and the resources available
- Options for sampling
- Use and review of results
- How results will be shared
- How the information will be used for improving teaching and learning or institutional effectiveness
Assessment planning is an activity that a program or department should undertake at the beginning of their assessment cycle timeframe, which is usually the academic year. As such, the planning process should be started by late summer and an assessment plan finalized by early in the fall semester in order to allow for adequate time to implement the plan.
What is an assessment plan?
At the most basic level, an assessment plan is a document (e.g., in Word or Excel) that outlines:
- Student learning outcomes or department goals to be assessed during that academic year
- Direct and indirect assessment methods used to demonstrate the attainment of each outcome or goal
- Brief explanation of the assessment methods, including the source(s) of data
- Indication of which outcome(s) or goal(s) is/are addressed by each method
- Intervals/timelines at which data is collected and reviewed
- Individual(s) responsible for the collection/review of data
Additional components of an assessment plan may include the mission of the department or program, curriculum maps aligning outcomes with courses, and a detailed implementation plan for each method or outcome/goal. There is often an assessment plan template that is utilized by all departments within a college or division to ensure that all aspects of the planning process are addressed and submitted in a consistent format to leadership for review.
Once an assessment plan has been implemented and data has been collected, it is time to further consider the various requirements and other options for reporting, or more generally, sharing the assessment information. Departments and programs are often required by leadership to submit an annual report, including a section on assessment. This information may be part of the annual report itself, or a separate document. As with assessment plans, an assessment report template is often created to ensure consistency in reporting among departments or programs within a division or college. (There are several examples of this at State University of New York at Fredonia; see College of Arts & Sciences and the Division of Student Affairs.) Making assessment reports available to stakeholders (via a website, for example, see the Fredonia Computer & Information Sciences Assessment web page) is a way to increase transparency of the evidence-based decision-making process.
What is an assessment report?
An assessment report is essentially an extension of the assessment plan. Sometimes departments or programs use one document that serves as both the plan and the report. The majority of the document is completed during the planning process, and once data has been collected, reviewed, and discussed, the reporting components are then completed. An assessment report should accomplish the following:
- Outline the student learning or program outcomes or goals assessed during the assessment cycle timeframe
- Identify and describe the specific assessment method(s) and tools used to gather evidence for the outcomes or goals
- Identify the specific source(s) of the data
- Provide brief results of each method and the extent to which the outcome or goal was achieved
- Provide a summary or conclusions regarding the assessment process and results
- Identify how the results will be shared and with whom
- Identify how the assessment data contributes to decision-making and the actions that will be taken as a result of the information
The assessment plan for the next year should reflect aspects of the assessment report from the previous year, as assessment is a systematic and continuous cycle and is the mechanism (or "means" to) for improving educational practices, processes, and policies (the "end").
In addition to assessment reports, there is a variety of other ways to share assessment information with different audiences, including websites, brochures, presentations, and social media. In particular, finding ways to share assessment results with students contributes to their increased understanding of why they are asked to participate in assessment and how they benefit from it.