D. Kent Johnson, PhD., Director of Assessment
Calls to create a “culture of assessment” have been a centerpiece of higher education discussions for more than two decades. The evolution of the assessment culture is evidenced by a distinctive vocabulary (e.g. student learning outcomes, authentic assessment, etc.); common artifacts (curriculum maps, student products, portfolios, rubrics, etc.); and consistent methodologies (direct measures, program level, course level, institutional level, quantitative, qualitative, mixed, etc.). The resultant assessment activities focus on stating expected outcomes, measuring student learning relative to those outcomes, and making judgements on the extent to which students achieve stated outcomes. Too often this focus on assessment mechanics is disconnected from the teaching and learning process resulting in a failure to use assessment to improve student learning (Blaich and Wise (2011); Fulcher, et al. (2014)).
This disconnect of assessment from teaching and learning was reinforced within institutions in the first decade of the assessment movement as assessment was positioned as an institutional act aimed at compliance with external or internal demands (Ikenberry and Kuh, 2015). Consequently, as the assessment movement was institutionalized, compliance or fear cultures driven by requirements to comply with external demands such as state legislatures or accrediting groups, or internal demands such as administrative mandates to assess programs were created. Within this space conversations on how assessment might actually improve student learning and success were often secondary to the act of assessment. Assessment was done for the sake of assessment.
A more evolved perspective of assessment supports an idea that assessment exists to increase the likelihood that institutional practices increase student learning and success. Based on their review of the literature, Fuller, et.al (2016) defined a culture of assessment as “…institutional contexts supporting or hindering the integration of professional wisdom
Culture of Assessment
Culture of Fear or Compliance
with the best available assessment data to support improved student outcomes or decision making” (p. 404). This perspective shifts the cultural target to one of assessment as illustrated in Figure 1.
While the emphasis on professional wisdom implies that faculty will use assessment to improve student learning relative to stated student outcomes, it remains somewhat isolated from the central target – a culture of learning. Fulcher, et al. (2014) identified this shortcoming and described a simple model for assessment comprised of three steps:
1. Assessing student learning
2. Using assessment findings to plan interventions or innovations, and
3. Re-assessing to examine if the intervention or innovation suggested that student learning was increased (p. 5).
The IPFW Integrated Teaching, Assessment, and Learning Model (Figure 2) builds on Fulcher, et.al. (2014) to address the gap they noted between the act of assessing and the art and science of instructional design. The IPFW Model conceptualizes the “Culture of Assessment” as embedded within a larger “Culture of Teaching and Learning”. This embedded strategy places increased emphasis on the need to intentionally connect assessment of student learning to teaching and learning process. Figure 2 represents IPFW’s assessment culture through the inner triangle (assess-innovate-reassess) as embedded in the outer triangle (teaching, learning, and student success) representing learning culture.
Supporting Academic Units in Implementing the IPFW Integrated Teaching, Assessment, and Learning Model: An Invitation to the Fall 2016 IPFW Assessment Academy:
The IPFW Assessment Plan represented in SD 15-6 expresses the IPFW Integrated Model through a specific artifact – the Assessment Report which is comprised of six interrelated elements:
1. Stated Student Learning Outcomes (SLO’s)
2. Curricular Maps
3. Assessment Plan
4. Assessment Methodology, and an ongoing cycle represented in steps 5 and 6,
5. Assessment Findings, and
6. Use of Assessment Findings to Improve Student Learning
The ongoing loop in process five and six follows the assess-intervene-reassess cycle suggested by Fulcher, et al. (2014). The emphasis on “5” and “6” above prioritizes using assessment findings to improve student learning consistent with the recommendation of Banta and Blaich (2011) that assessment effort shift from gathering data to using data. To facilitate this shift, the IPFW Assessment Academy is offering three workshops in Fall Semester 2016:
- Creating Signature Assignments for Programmatic Assessment,
- Assessment Plan Tune-Up, and
If you are interested in participating in the IPFW Academy, please contact Kent at x15411 or email the assessment office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Banta, T.W., & Blaich, C. (2011). Closing the assessment loop. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 43(1), 22-27.
Blaich, C., & Wise, K. (2011). From gathering to using assessment results: Lessons from the Wabash national study. (Occasional Paper No. 8). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.
Fulcher, K. H., Good, M. R., Coleman, C. M., & Smith, K. L. (2014, December). A simple model for learning improvement: Weigh pig, feed pig, weigh pig. (Occasional Paper No. 23). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.
Fuller, M.B., Skidmore, S.T., Bustamante, R.M., and Holzweiss, P.C. (2016). Empirically Exploring Higher Education Cultures of Assessment. The Review of Higher Education, 39(3). Pp. 395-429.
Ikenberry, S.O., & Kuh, G.D. (2015). From Compliance to Ownership: Why and How Colleges and Universities Assess Student Learning. In Kuh, et.al. Using Evidence of Student Learning to Improve Higher Education (pp. 1-17). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.