Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about. An assessment plan's value to the department lies in the evidence it offers about overall department or program strengths and weaknesses, and in the evidence it provides for change (Wright, 1991). The key factors in attaining the real value of all your work is to make the most out of the information you collect through appropriate analysis and interpretation.
In its faculty handbook on program assessment, the University of California at Chico (1998) recommends:
adapted from the Southeast Missouri State University, Busy Chairperson's Guide to Assessment (1997).
These are compelling and central questions for faculty, administrators, students, and external audiences alike. If your assessment information can shed light on these issues, the value of your efforts will become all the more apparent.
Data are misleading, and even threatening, when they are used for purposes other than originally intended and agreed upon. For example, data from assessment of student performance in a capstone course should be used to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses in student learning across the students' entire experience in the major. In this way, these data guide curricular modifications and departmental pedagogical strategies. These data should not be used to evaluate the performance of the capstone course instructor.
The first, and most important, step in preparing an assessment report is to define its purpose. As Palomba and Banta (1999) point out, the first step in developing an assessment report is to answer the following questions:
At its most basic, your report should have enough information to answer five basic questions:
Based on the results of your assessment within your department or program, you can use the following table to help determine what information might be useful to each of these identified audiences. The first example is completed for you [Table 12].
A comprehensive, systematic department assessment report may be as simple as a presentation to the department on major results, or it can be as complex as a formal report to the Provost on assessing learning outcomes in your program. The reality is that a department rarely has only one purpose for engaging in assessment. Therefore you may want to develop a number of reports tailored specifically to the audiences you need to address.
If you have decided to prepare a formal assessment report, your report should address each of the identified audiences, elaborating on the information you outlined in the table above. Your final report for the department might contain some or all of the following:
Assessment reports do not necessarily have to be pages and pages of text and graphs to be effective. You may choose to prepare a report that briefly outlines your assessment program results. By highlighting the main points and significant results, you can convey in a concise manner what you were trying to accomplish, what you did and did not accomplish, and what changes you will implement as a result.