What is Assessment?
At the program level, assessment is information or a collection of information centered on student learning. Assessment looks at how much knowledge students attain from their coursework over a program. The results of assessment help in making decisions to improve student learning within that program. Two basic forms of assessment are direct assessment and indirect assessment. These two types of assessment are not mutually exclusive and often work hand-in-hand to give program faculty the best picture of student learning within their programs.
Direct assessment of student learning is tangible, visible, and compelling evidence of exactly what students have and have not learned.
Direct assessment comes in a variety of forms:
- Case studies
- Clinical evaluations
- Oral presentations
Direct assessment asks students to show what they know. Students must be able to execute the skills they learn from the classroom and co-curricular activities.
Indirect assessment consists of proxy signs that students are probably learning. Indirect evidence is less clear and convincing and comes in a variety of forms:
- Overall GPA
- Student retention rates
- Graduation rates
- Job placement
(Palomba & Banta, 2013)
Distinguishing between Direct and Indirect Assessment
Any of the examples mentioned above, either under direct assessment or indirect assessment, could be either type of assessment. To determine whether an assessment methodology is direct or indirect, there are two important considerations:
- Who decides what was learned and/or how well it was learned?
- In direct assessment, a professional makes a decision regarding what was learned and how well it was learned. (E.g. a faculty member evaluating an essay)
- In indirect assessment, the student decides what was learned and how well it was learned. (E.g., surveys and teaching evaluations)
- Does the assessment measure the learning or is it a proxy for learning?
- Direct evidence: Students have completed some work or product that demonstrates they have achieved the learning outcome (E.g, projects, papers, exams, etc.).
- Indirect evidence: A proxy measure was used, such as participation in a learning activity, students’ opinions about what they learned, student satisfaction, etc. (E.g., number of students who visited an office or office hours, course grades*)
*How are course grades indirect assessment?
Course grades are based on many iterations of direct measurement. However, they are an indirect measurement of any one learning outcome because:
- They represent a combination of course learning outcomes; performance on these outcomes are averaged out in a final grade.
- They frequently include corrections not related to learning outcomes, such as extra credit or penalties for unexcused absences.
Challenges in Conducting Direct Assessment
Limited or inconsistent exposure to students (especially in co-curricular units)
- Captive Audience. Have students complete assessment work while they are with you, either in the classroom or during co-curricular activities or contact hours.
Challenge: Limited faculty/staff time
- Make assessment everyone’s responsibility in your program. Bring all faculty/instructional staff into the assessment process, so faculty and instructional staff participate from the beginning (determining what questions you have about student learning) to the end (dissemination of report; discussion of results; recommendations and actions to continuously improve student learning) of the assessment process. Not only does this meet the HLC expectation [link to HLC criteria for assessment content] that assessment involve the substantial participation of faculty and instructional staff, it also distributes the workload by making assessment a natural part of the work you do as a faculty group. It also formalizes the informal work faculty and instructional staff constantly engage in when they discuss their programs – what is working or not working, what students are learning well and where students struggle within their programs, etc.
- Captive audience. Incorporate assessment planning, activities, discussion, etc. into existing departmental meetings and/or planned events, such as faculty/staff retreats.
- Team up. Especially in smaller programs and departments, it can be helpful to seek other smaller units that would like to explore similar questions about student learning. It may be useful for two curricular or co-curricular units to work together or even for a curricular and co-curricular unit to team up to explore some aspect of student learning. Not only does this split the workload between more faculty/instructional staff, but it may also give you a richer picture of not just what students are learning in the classroom, but how well they are transferring that knowledge to other disciplines and/or applying knowledge they gain in your program outside of the classroom.
- Plan ahead. A little time spent planning at the beginning of an academic year can save a lot of time later on in actually conducting your assessment project(s).
Challenge: Student motivation to fully participate and engage in the assessment. How do we know assessment results are valid if students are not putting forth their best effort?
- Bring students into the process.
- Explain what you are doing and why you are doing it
- Inform students of what will be done with the results of the assessment
- Offer to make results available to students
- Bring students into the discussion of the assessment results, including its implications and how they might be used
- Think about giving students an opportunity to provide feedback on the assessment itself
- Make it "count." Even if it only counts a little bit, it can make a big difference in student’s motivation to participate in assessment projects.
In the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), Lewis 1300 Suite, you can find free books and books in the office library that you can check out, with more information on direct and indirect assessment.
Free books offered by CTL
Assessment Clear and Simple: A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education, 2nd Ed. by Barbara E. Walvoord.
Assessment in Practice: Putting Principles to Work on College Campuses by Trudy Banta, Jon P. Lund, Karen E. Black, & Frances W. Oblander.
Books for checkout from CTL library
Assessing General Education Programs by Mary J. Allen.
Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education by Mary J. Allen.
Learner-centered Assessment on College Campuses: Shifting the Focus from Teaching to Learning by Mary E. Huba & Jann E. Freed.
Outcomes Assessment in Higher Education: Views and Perspectives edited by David Allen
Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing, and Improving Assessment in Higher Education by Catherine A. Palomba & Trudy W. Banta.
Online articles and book chapters
Actions Matter: The Case For Indirect Measures in Assessing Higher Education’s Progress On The National Education Goals, by Peter T. Ewell & Dennis P. Jones. Available here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27797182?origin=JSTOR-pdf
Direct and Indirect Writing Assessment: Examining Issues of Equity and Utility by Ronald H. Heck & Marian Crislip. Available here: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3102/01623737023003275
Additional Assessment Related Books & Articles
The Philosophy and Practice of Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education by Alexander W. Astin & Anthony Lising Antonio.
Higher Education: Student Learning, Teaching, Programmes and Institutions by John Heywood.