Is Your Assessment Any Good?

2015-03-14_OhNoLogo22-mark3This Friday, I had my annual performance review. When discussing my goals for the coming year, I mentioned that I’d like to change the way my we measure my performance. Over the five years I’ve been with the Engineering Advising Center, I’ve pulled in a number responsibilities. And that felt good. I felt important seeing an inbox with e-mails from across the college and university, all pertaining to different hats I wear in my role.

But who cares if you can juggle six tennis balls when the guy next to you is juggling three chainsaws! What I mean is, I’m not doing anyone (my students or myself) any favors by trying to pull in as many responsibilities as possible. This year, I want to be measured by the quality of my two largest commitments — assessment and our Peer Advisor program. When I mentioned this to my supervisor, he asked me how we would know if our assessment is any good. What a good idea for a blog post.

So how do you know if your assessment is any good? My initial thoughts start to resemble the movie Inception.

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I hope that image was from Inception and not one of the Batman movies.

How do you know if your assessment is any good? Here are a few thoughts:

Does it measure outcomes you care about?
Does it accurately measure those outcomes?
Do you ever share the results with others?
Does the data collected inform changes to office processes?

But that list feels a bit empty. You could chase after that second criteria forever — will any set of questions completely capture some of the more complicated learning outcomes? Are there other criteria not critical, yet still of value? For example:

Do students care about the results?
Could the assessment be completed by someone else? (the ol’ “if you get hit by a bus” situation)
Do you ask high-quality, non-leading questions?
Can your assessment plan be explained in only a few minutes?

If you’re not careful, you can create a monster (as I did with the first assessment plan I designed). Recently, I’ve focused on assessment that captures the learning outcomes with as little excess as possible. In a quote often attributed to Einstein “…everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.”

Thus far, I’ve been writing mostly about assessment at the office level. What if we take a step back and look at assessment at the college or institutional level? How powerful would assessment be if office-level assessment were just a part of a larger institutional effort? At the office level, we’re limited to fairly simple learning outcomes; mostly because we tend to have limited interactions with students. But as an institution, we have a great impact. Our students should be learning and growing in ways not captured by simply adding up the assessment efforts of individual offices. Shouldn’t we capture that impact? Shouldn’t this effort include more than simply employment data?

At the institutional level, this hints at the importance of assessment informed by institutional mission. Shouldn’t we try to capture the extent to which we’re meeting our mission?

I may have posed more questions in this post than answers. What attributes of good assessment have I missed?

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