Assessment of Student Learning
Barnard College is committed to providing an excellent academic experience for all undergraduates and to the use of ongoing assessment of student learning to improve curriculum, pedagogy, and the student academic experience. Assessment is based on clear expectations for student learning and multiple opportunities for students to engage with, reinforce, and master key learning outcomes.
All academic departments and programs are expected to have in place an assessment plan, to review it periodically, and to engage in a periodic, ambitious, and sustained assessment of one or more elements of the major and its learning goals.
The Office of the Provost and the Executive Director, Institutional Assessment can assist department chairs and program directors with this process by offering workshops, resources, and whenever possible, administrative support.
Explore below resources to assist with assessment of student learning and contact us for assistance.
A complete assessment plan includes all of the following components:
- A departmental mission statement—a statement that identifies the purpose and aims of the academic program or department;
- A statement of key student learning outcomes—a description of the knowledge, skills, competencies, attitudes, and habits of mind that students should be able to demonstrate upon graduating;
- A periodic multi-year assessment exercise – a systematic plan for assessment of student learning which will include some direct assessment of student work. The plan should identify the research question and relevant student learning outcomes, the method(s) to be used to gather evidence to address the research question, and plans for discussion of the results and development of next steps.
All academic departments must participate in assessment. Before approval of a new major, an assessment plan must be completed and submitted to the Provost’s Office.
Beginning in 2014-15, the Provost and the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment implemented a cyclical model for assessment of student learning within the major. This model was developed with the following goals in mind:
- To use faculty time and energy most efficiently and effectively; and
- To encourage and support more ambitious assessment projects, including multi-year assessment exercises and interdisciplinary thematic assessment projects.
Departments and programs engage in rotating multi-year engagements with rigorous assessment projects, followed by a several year hiatus. During the assessment engagement, faculty will develop a research question related to student learning outcomes; collect and evaluate evidence, including direct assessment of student work; develop and implement any changes in curriculum, pedagogy, or learning outcomes; and conduct further assessment to evaluate the impact of these changes.
Assessment projects and results should be discussed with the full departmental faculty at least annually while a department is engaged in the assessment process. Annual reports summarizing the previous academic year’s work and findings and detailing plans for the current academic year should be submitted to the Provost and the Executive Director of Institutional Assessment by November 15. The Provost and the Executive Director will provide feedback to the department over the course of the academic year.
Department Chairs and Program Directors are charged with coordinating faculty to develop and implement an assessment plan. Chairs and directors submit to the Office of the Provost the department’s or program’s assessment plan, schedule and coordinate regular departmental meetings on assessment, and submit periodic reports as outlined above.
Faculty members are expected to be full participants in the development, discussion, and review of the department’s or program’s assessment work.
Why Are We Assessing? Rethinking Assessment’s Purpose by Linda Suskie, former Vice President of Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Suskie presents three important purposes of assessment:
- To ensure that students get the best possible education, consonant with the institution’s mission
- To ensure that learning is of appropriate scope, depth, and rigor – are we satisfied with what students are learning?
- To use assessment to inform decisions about allocation of resources
What constitutes good assessment?
Nine Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning from The American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) Assessment Forum
Standard V in Standards for Accreditation and Requirements for Affiliation from The Middle States Commission on Higher Education
The Hamilton Plan for Assessment of Liberal Arts by Dan Chambliss, Christian A. Johnson Professor of Sociology, Hamilton College
Chambliss presents reasons many faculty and administrators do not like the idea of assessment and then argues for three elements of good assessment:
- Results should be useful
- Research should be fundamentally sound social science
- Assessment should be true to the mission of liberal arts
The paper concludes with a description of the Mellon Assessment Project at Hamilton and lessons learned about assessment.
Assessment Methods and Examples
The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) launched its Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative, which “champions the importance of a twenty-first-century liberal education—for individual students and for a nation dependent on economic creativity and democratic vitality,” in 2005. One facet of this initiative involved development, by teams of faculty across the country, of 16 rubrics to assess students’ work on critical dimensions of liberal learning. These VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) rubrics can be used or adapted to assess student work within various contexts at Barnard. Rubrics for the following dimensions are available here:
Inquiry and Analysis
Civic Knowledge and Engagement – Local and Global
Intercultural Knowledge and Competence
Ethical Reasoning and Action
Foundations and Skills for Lifelong Learning
A one-page inventory of assessment methods that provide direct and indirect evidence of student learning, and evidence of learning processes (i.e., why students are or are not learning)
From the MIT Teaching and Learning Laboratory (TLL), a matrix and explanatory text describing types of direct and indirect assessment.
Assessment Terminology Glossary (from Teagle Tri-College Assessment Project)
Specific Formative Evaluations
Formative assessment is assessment for learning, to help students and instructors gauge the degree of understanding as the course progresses. (Note that there is substantial overlap among these resources, but all are short.)
The ‘Mud Card’ – brief in-class exercise asking for the ‘muddiest’ point of the class (pdf)
Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning Formative Evaluation examples
Classroom Assessment Techniques adapted from book of the same title by K. Patricia Cross and Thomas A. Angelo, 1993, from the Georgetown Assessment web site
Mid-Course Evaluation – Sample Questions – informal, anonymous, in-class evaluation, midway through the course, to gauge understanding of the material
Assessment Web Sites
The following web sites offer good assessment resources:
Swarthmore College Assessment web page, particularly the Resources section
Tri-College Teagle Assessment Project (Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore), particularly:
Measures page – specific rubrics, pre- and post- tests, etc., developed during the Teagle Project
MIT Teaching and Learning Lab (TLL) Assessment and Evaluation page, particularly:
- Sample grading rubric for professional writing
- Sample grading rubric for oral presentation
- Sample grading rubric for lab report
Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence, particularly:
Assessing Student Learning – various strategies and techniques for assessing student learning
Course-Level Assessment Guide – combination of assessment and pedagogical techniques