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Program-Based Review and Assessment: Tools and Techniques for Program Improvement

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Getting Started

What is assessment?

The word "assessment" has taken on a variety of meanings within higher education. These varied uses have, unfortunately, moved us away from a focus on the central role that assessment should play in educational institutions ­ the gathering of information to improve institutional practices.

Therefore, for the purposes of this guide: Assessment is the systematic collection and analysis of information to improve student learning.

Defined in this manner, assessment asks you to think about the following questions:

What is program assessment?

Program assessment focuses on assessing student learning and experience to determine whether students have acquired the skills, knowledge, and competencies associated with their program of study.

When developing and implementing assessment strategies, academic units should have at least one of three purposes in mind: to improve, to inform, and/or to prove. The results from an assessment process should provide information that can be used to determine whether or not intended outcomes are being achieved and how the programs can be improved. An assessment process should also be designed to inform departmental faculty and other decision-makers about relevant issues that can impact the program and student learning.

Adapted from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Using Assessment for Academic Program Improvement,(April 2000).

Effective program assessment helps you answer three questions:

  1. What are you trying to do?
  2. How well are you doing it?
  3. How (using the answers to 1. and 2.) can you improve?

What are the steps to effective program assessment?

Ultimately, you will tailor your approach to program assessment to respond to departmental goals and timelines, taking into account internal expectations, external requirements, or both. In general, your department will want to complete the following steps to develop an effective program assessment plan:

Adapted from Hatfield, Susan, Department Level Assessment: Promoting Continuous Improvement (1992).

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