Assurance of Learning Assessment
Purpose of Assessment
The assurance of learning assessment initiative at the Kelley School of Business has several aims, ranging from the micro level of improving teaching and learning in individual courses to the macro level of guiding curriculum planning and other program-level decisions and demonstrating accountability to external stakeholders.
At the local classroom level, assurance of learning assessment plays an important part in fostering more learner-centered pedagogies as instructors are asked to use learning outcomes rather than content as guides to planning and preparing their classes. Since learning outcomes must be articulated in measurable language and then assessed, teachers see their work in terms of helping students to learn the knowledge, skills and attitudes articulated in the learning outcomes rather than covering content, which does not necessarily guarantee any learning at all. Additionally, for those instructors who develop rubrics to assess their students’ work, the assessment initiative supports teachers in communicating standards and expectations to students clearly and systematically so that students may know what is expected of them and what excellent performance looks like for their instructors. Of course, the assessment data themselves return direct information about student learning to the instructor, who may then consider what changes – if any – he or she would like to make in the structure or delivery of the course.
Institutionally, the assurance of learning assessment initiative provides the school with well-researched data on which to base decisions about programs and curricula. Such decisions in the pre-assessment era were based on the frequently erroneous assumption that successful completion of a series of courses was tantamount to the mastery of the skills and knowledge guaranteed by a degree. Data gathered from systematic assessment actually demonstrate students’ mastery of certain skills and knowledge so that curricular and programmatic deletions, additions and changes may be based on what we know and not what we assume. Another beneficial result of the assessment initiative at the institutional level is its culture-building aspect. As small groups of faculty meet to discuss a program’s learning goals, as instructors articulate learning outcomes in measurable language and align them with program goals, as rubrics are developed to evaluate student work, a common teaching purpose emerges in the school, serving as both guide and foundation to the work of teachers at every level of instruction. This common teaching culture, grown organically from the goals and learning outcomes of the faculty, facilitates productive discussions and collaborations among faculty about teaching; it also assists in new course development by providing instructors with a clear articulation of the learning goals the school values and expects its students to learn.
A school’s assessment initiative can also offer the world beyond the walls of the institution the assurance of accountability, though what information and how much of it to share are questions that must be carefully considered in order to protect the integrity of the assessment program. As external groups and individuals such as potential students, parents, alumni, supporters, employers and state and federal legislatures have begun to question how much students are actually learning at colleges and universities, it has become important to make what we do as educators more transparent. Carefully planned and organized assessment programs along with today’s web technology make it easy to show anyone who is interested that a school has carefully articulated learning goals for each of its programs and a systematic method in place for assessing the extent to which students are achieving those goals. An institution may also wish to delineate some specific plans for improving instruction, curricula, or programs. However, when assessment devolves into “proving” student learning or continuous improvement to the outside world – particularly to those who fund the institution at any level – it can quickly become a game of showing improvement and progress at any cost, whether or not any improvement to learning has actually taken place. We therefore hesitate at the idea of demonstrating accountability by sharing direct assessment data of any kind with external constituents. Doing so would almost certainly lead to compromised standards, perfunctory assessments, wasted time and resentment. As long as this trap can be avoided, there is much to be gained by showing external stakeholders that the Kelley School of Business has a systematic curriculum that drives toward clearly articulated learning goals, explaining how the curriculum is monitored and how learning goals are assessed, and thus assuring the public that the Kelley School graduates students who command the knowledge, skills, and attitudes we claim they do. In addition to these benefits, sharing such information with outside interests indicates the focus of the school’s teaching and learning activities, its values, and its culture.