Essential Assessment Resources (Updated May 2018)


When I talk with colleagues new to assessment or work with institutions, I am often asked about what resources are available.  I have aggregated the list below to answer some of those questions. Each resource serves a different purpose so I encourage you to review each item on the list to see how it may be helpful to you.

Continue reading “Essential Assessment Resources (Updated May 2018)”

Moving From Serendipity to Intentionality in Student Learning

NOTE: This was originally posted to ACPA Developments Volume 13, Summer 2015 Issue (June 2015)

Please visit ACPA Video On Demand where I discuss this concept in a video interview.

On a Friday night in late April in 1987, during the spring of my sophomore year, I was attending a movie with friends in Brody Hall at Michigan State University. Back then, the Residence Hall Association screened movies in select lecture halls across campus. We didn’t have Netflix back then. We didn’t even have cable.

After the movie an event happened that changed my life forever.

On my way out of the lecture hall I ran into a friend of mine, Stacy Huffman, from my hometown of Saginaw, MI, who had also attending the movie. As friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while (it was a 21 acre campus of 30,000+ students), we caught each other up on our lives. As the semester was nearing an end, we discussed our summer plans in Saginaw. Stacy said that she was going to be staying on campus working for the Academic Orientation Program. She continued that they were looking for one more male orientation leader and encouraged me to apply. The interviews were the next day and there was an opening at 8am.

Wiping sleep from my eyes I got early, ate my Wheaties, and headed to the interview. A few days later I was notified that I had been selected as an orientation leader. Serendipity opened the door to my first student affairs job and my career – although I didn’t comprehend it at the time.

Fast forward to June of 1993. Frustration and anxiety was setting in because I had recently graduated with my master’s degree from MSU and, unlike my classmates, was still job searching. And searching. And searching. There had been a few phone interviews and even a couple of campus interviews, but nothing panned out. Self-doubt became all-consuming as I wondered why no one wanted to hire me despite what I thought were excellent grades and extensive experience.

When hope was waning, serendipity struck again.

I received a call from the Department of Residence Life at the University of New Hampshire for an on-campus interview. A hall director job at UNH was my “perfect” job from the start of my search. Unfortunately for me, a few weeks before, shortly after the phone interview, I was told that they had hired other individuals for their open spaces. However, a residence hall director had decided to leave UNH in June, opening up a position. I jumped at the chance for a campus interview. Two months later I was packing up a U-Haul to make the trip Durham, New Hampshire for my “perfect” job. This position created the foundation of who I am as an educator today. Plus, UNH was where I met my current partner. Call it destiny. Call it kismet. Or maybe it was just chance. But, it this result was certainly not intentional.

The orientation leader position began my career in student affairs but working for the Department of Residence Life at the University of New Hampshire changed how I approached my job. While I learned many things during my six years in residence life, one word has stuck with me and was the concept that compelled me into assessment work. That word is “intentionality.” During numerous staff and supervision meetings hall directors discussed how we were being intentional in our outreach to students and in our programming. Intentionality became a mantra for my work then and the driving force for the assessment work I have been undertaking the past 15 years.

Synonyms for serendipity include chance and accident while synonyms for intentional include designed, deliberate, and planned. While not antonyms of one another the concepts of serendipity and intentional are opposed to each other. I think serendipity vs. intentionality is a tension we continue to struggle with today in regard to learning in higher education. All too often we assume or think that learning is happening outside of the classroom and we aren’t doing as much as we can to intentionally foster it. We can no longer rely on serendipity to ensure student learning and success.

External demands for accountability are increasing the need for intentionality. The completion agenda dominates the national discourse of higher education. Students, parents, and legislatures are questioning the return on investment of a college education and want to known what students are learning after paying exorbitant amounts of money. College administrators are questioning the value of student affairs in an era of service provision where students are customers and clients. During a program session with college presidents at ACPA15, when asked what the priority should be for student affairs, all panelists stated that college student educators need to be able to demonstrate how they and their work positively contributes to student learning and retention. The completion agenda at the federal and state level is a major thrust behind the current accountability movement in higher education. This emphasis on retention is not simply because of the individual benefits for students who graduate but because of the financial impact of tuition revenue and state appropriations for colleges and universities.

More important than external calls for accountability are the internal calls for accountability that originate from inside each one of us as college student educators. We chose this profession for our careers because of the want and need to positively impact lives of college students. Thus, we strive to do the best job we can to assist students. As a field, we need to make intentionality an interwoven thread in the fabric of everyday practice to ensure student success, both academically and personally.

Intentionally isn’t rocket science. It can be explained in a four-step process outlined by Linda Suskie (2009). The first step is to begin with what you want students to achieve (aka outcomes which an be learning, operational, or program). Once outcomes are identified, existing literature and other evidence are used to identify strategies to foster those outcomes in step 2. Step 3 is to collect and analyze data to determine if the outcomes are achieved and how outcome achievement can be improved. The final step is the most important – closing the loop by making improvements. Intentionally is a process, not a destination.

Suskie Cycle

Figure 1. Assessment cycle by Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (2nd Ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

How Can ACPA Help You Be More Intentional
ACPA’s focus is student learning. As stated in our mission “ACPA supports and fosters college student learning through the generation and dissemination of knowledge, which informs policies, practices and programs for student affairs professionals and the higher education community” (ACPA, 2015). There are many ways ACPA can help you foster student learning, development, and success.

Individuals can leverage ACPA to help foster and support student learning by accessing the scholarship that is generated through various outlets. ACPA’s signature publication is the Journal of College Student Development. There are articles in each issue pertinent to faculty and practitioners alike. Previous issues include scholarship regarding experiences of Asian American and Latino/a students at an HBCU, the academic performance of Black emerging adults, a method to increase the grade point averages of fraternity members, and others.

About Campus is a scholarly publication directed towards practitioners. This bi-monthly magazine provides insights to improve practice in higher education. Past issues include articles addressing positive psychology, long-term success in work and life, as well as high impact practices.

In addition to these publications, and Developments which you are reading now, ACPA also sponsors books and monographs. This past year ACPA published Job One 2.0: Understanding the Next Generation of Student Affairs Professionals which focuses on the first jobs of college student educators as well as Working With Students in Community Colleges: Contemporary Strategies for Bridging Theory, Research, and Practice which provides approaches to help community college students be successful. Additional publications can be found here. ACPA books and monographs coupled with our other publications provide faculty and practitioners a library of research and scholarship to inform further research and practice.

Another major way that ACPA supports student learning, development, and success is helping college student educators across the spectrum of higher education bridge theory to practice. Some of this work is done through our acclaimed professional development events. Most of our activities are driven by curricula rooted in research. Upcoming events include

You can find additional professional development events here.

Theory to practice is also addressed in other venues including ACPA On Demand and Student Affairs Live, sponsored by ACPA. ACPA On Demand is collection of pre-recorded videos covering a variety of topics relevant to college student educators. Student Affairs Live is a weekly talk show viewed via GoogleHangouts covering critical emergent issues in higher education. Recorded versions of the shows are available the Student Affairs Live website and podcasts are available in iTunes.

As college student educators, we need to be much more intentional in how we cultivate student learning and development. While learning may happen by serendipity, we can’t rely on that. Our students – our future – are too important to rely on chance. ACPA is your go-to source for research, scholarship, and proven practices for fostering student success. Tap into the resources now!

ACPA (2015). Mission, vision, and values. Retrieved on April 8, 2015 from

Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (2nd Ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The Completion Agenda: Opportunities for College Student Educators

NOTE: This was posted as part of the ACPA President’s Blog for May 2015

Please visit ACPA On Demand for an interview of me discussing this topic.

Regardless of the news source one turns to, the completion agenda is in the headlines of the higher education section. It’s also the hot topic on the radar screens of policymakers’ and college presidents. While many higher education officials are concerned with the impact this federal policy has on higher education at the national, state, and local level, we as college student educators can actualize the opportunity the completion agenda presents. This policy provides a chance to demonstrate the impact we have on the success of college students.

In February of 2009, President Obama outlined his completion agenda with the goal of attaining the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020 (Kanter, Ochoa, Nassif, & Chong, 2011). According to 2012 data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States ranks 19th out of 28 countries studied (Weston, 2014). There is some work to be done on this front.

President Obama presented three reasons supporting this policy. The first was that a college degree is required for 60% of jobs. In addition to being a requirement for the majority of jobs, an individual with a college degree earns 40% more over a lifetime than those without. This is a significant financial benefit. Finally, President Obama believed that an educated citizenry was needed for an engaged democracy (Kanter, Ochoa, Nassif, & Chong, 2011).

Future of Higher Education Funding
This policy position has influenced conversations regarding state funding for higher education with a new focus on program-based budgeting. With this budgeting model state allocations are based on results, in this case completion rates, rather than the number of students enrolled, which has been the traditional model. As of January 2015, 34 states had some form of program-based budgeting for higher education funding although the percentage of overall funding based on graduation percentages does vary (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015).

We can debate the pros and cons of this form of program-based budgeting, but it appears to be the future higher education funding model. With continued financial issues impacting colleges and universities including Louisiana State University (O’Donoghue, 2015), student affairs budgets are in jeopardy requiring vice presidents to not only advocate for more resources but also defend current resources.

At ACPA16 in Tampa, ACPA sponsored a panel of five college presidents who came up through the ranks of student affairs. These presidents included Joe Bertolino from Lyndon State College, Marybeth Cooper from Springfield College, Tom Jackson from Blackhills State University, Steve Tyrell from North Country Community College, and Karen Whitney from Clarion University. During this panel each president emphatically stated the need for college student educators to demonstrate their impact on retention and graduation. The continued that support of retention and graduation is the key to demonstrating value within a college or university.

Turning Crisis Into Opportunity
Some may view the issue of declining resources and centralized focus on retention as a crisis facing college student educators – a crisis that shifts to a financial bottom line, not students. However, a focus on retention actually centers on students and how educators can help each individual graduate. When one takes a moment to reviews the literature regarding retention and graduation, college student educators play a key role many of those success factors.

John Braxton, William Doyle, Harold Hartley, Amy Hirschy, Willis Jones, and Michael McLendon published Rethinking College Student Retention in November of 2013. (For a review of the book in the Journal of College Student Development 55(6), visit In this text, the authors discuss their theories of retention for residential colleges and commuter institutions explaining how they tested each. The factors influencing retention in residential colleges include:

  1. Commitment to getting a degree.
  2. Commitment to attending an institution.
  3. Social integration (degree of social affiliation and congruency of beliefs, norms, and values of the community – in other words “connection” and “fit”)(antecedents include). Social integration can be deconstructed into:
    • Commitment of the institution to student welfare: Concern by the institution to the growth and development of students.
    • Community potential: Feeling connected to a group of individuals.
    • Institutional integrity: Words and actions of faculty and staff are congruence with mission and values.
    • Proactive social adjustment: Ability to adjust in a proactive manner to overcome challenges.
    • Psychosocial engagement: Amount of psychological energy students invest in social interactions with peers and their participation in extracurricular activities.
    • Ability to pay: Satisfaction with cost of attending/seeing college as a financial value.

The components in the theory of retention at commuter colleges include the following:

  1. Student entry characteristics (SES, parents education, ability, race, gender, etc.).
  2. External environment (finances, support, work, family, community).
  3. Campus environment, which includes:
    • Student characteristics interaction with campus environment (being motivated to adapt to this type of environment, motivation to graduate, and self-efficacy)
    • Organizational characteristics that foster academic and intellectual development including,
      1. Commitment of the institution to student welfare: Concern by the institution to the growth and development of students
      2. Institutional integrity: Words and actions of faculty and staff are congruence with mission and values

Upon reviewing these two theories, it’s clear that college student educators play a major role in retention. Here are just some of the roles we play:

  • We demonstrate that the institution cares.
  • We connect students with campus communities.
  • We support them as they continually adjust.
  • We create opportunities to engage.
  • We are also conduits to support the mission and values of the institution.

What Can We Do and How Can ACPA Help
First, college student educators must become familiar with retention theory. As professionals it is our responsibility to bring theory into practice. When we use theory, we build and hone our practice on research rather relying on anecdotes and ideas of what “might work.” Being familiar with theory also permits college student educators to better tell the story of our impact on student success. And, in language that faculty are familiar – research and scholarship. And perhaps more importantly, we will be able to describe the outcomes of our work in the words of university leaders and educational policy makers – retention and graduation.

The focus on completion presents college student educators with an opportunity to be more intentional in our work but to also demonstrate our impact beyond housing students, feeding students, and helping them have fun.

ACPA is here to help you leverage this opportunity. Review the research and scholarship that ACPA generates and disseminates in the Journal of College Student Development, About Campus, Developments, as well as ACPA sponsored books and monographs. Bridge theory to practice by attending a professional development institute such as the Student Affairs Assessment Institute or the Residential Curriculum Institute. Connect with colleagues doing similar work. ACPA’s state chapters, coalitions (formerly standing committees), commissions, and newly created communities of practice provide these connection opportunities.

We have an opportunity in front of us. Rather than seeing it as a crisis or obstacle, we should leverage it to demonstrate our impact, but more importantly to help students succeed. ACPA can assist you in your journey. Tap into the resources now!


Donoghue, J. (2015). LSU drafting ‘academic bankruptcy’ plan in response to budget crisis. The Times-Picayne (2015, April 22). Retrieved from

Kanter, M., Ochoa, E., Nassif, R., & Chong, F. (2011). Meeting President Obama’s 2020 college completion goal. Retrieved from

National Conference of State Legislatures (2015, January 13). Performance-Based Funding for Higher Education. Retrieved from

Weston, L. (2014). OECD: The US has fallen behind other countries in college completion. BusinessInsider (2014, September 9). Retrieved from .

The Argument for Competency-Based Higher Education

There has been recent buzz regarding the awarding of higher education degrees based on demonstrated competence of knowledge and skills rather than the traditional acquisition of a set number of course-based credits. In April 2013, the U.S. Department of Education approved the eligibility of Southern New Hampshire University to receive federal financial aid for students enrolled in a new, self-paced program ( Then in May, the U.S. Department of Education notified colleges and universities that they could apply to provide federal student aid to students in competency-based programs and identified a process for that application ( Later this year (2013), Wisconsin’s extension system will start a competency-based program where students with experience and program-specific skills may be able to test out of courses (

I am enthusiastic and optimistic regarding the possibility of competency-based education. There are benefits for all constituency groups involved. Here are a few of the benefits I envision. What benefits to you see?

  1. The focus of the degree is truly on skills and knowledge attainment not credits or seat time.

Currently, colleges and universities award a degree essentially based on seat time. A student satisfactorily completes 120 credits and receives a diploma. While there is an assumption that satisfactory completion of coursework suggests learning has occurred, the degree itself is not awarded based on demonstrated skill or knowledge. Aren’t the knowledge and skills what college and universities should be focusing on?

  1. Graduates are better prepared.

If the focus shifts from completed credits to demonstrated skill and knowledge, then it seems logical that college students will be better prepared than they currently are as they transition from these institution. Federal reports, international rankings, and books such as Academically Adrift decry the academic preparedness of today’s U.S. college students. Competency-based higher education can re-center degree attainment on what really matters to everyone – skill and knowledge.

  1. There is a clear delineation of acquired skills and knowledge for employers/grad schools.

As I talk with colleges working in career development, they discuss the inability of seniors to articulate what they have learned during their undergraduate careers. Yes, they can list off all 1.3 million items on their resume (that they actually started developing in kindergarten). However, they cannot explain what skills and knowledge they acquired from these experiences no how they can apply what they learned to different situations. Developing competency-based educational program would require clearly defined sets of skills and knowledge that would have to be demonstrated to graduate. This delineation would make it easier for students to describe these knowledge and skills. This explanation would also make it easier for employers and graduate schools decipher resume’s to determine what students know.

  1. Alternate college journeys are validated.

Competency-based higher education is student-centered. Rather than making students conform to an antiquated, mode of education most appropriate for the industrial age, this model focuses solely on competencies and acknowledges the real fact that students can acquire these competencies multiple ways. This model honors the multiple journeys students take to achieve their degree. Students can swirl between institutions to acquire the skills and knowledge required to graduate. They can also double-dip by attending two institutions at the same time. Students may acquire skills and knowledge when they stop out of college because they are developing skills on the job or in other settings. As the number of diverse paths to a college degree increase, a model for degree completion is needed to align with these myriad journeys.

  1. College will be cheaper for students, colleges, and the federal government.

Competency-based education would be cheaper for most higher education stakeholders. If the focus is competence, students wouldn’t need to take courses at the same institution and articulation agreements wouldn’t be needed. In addition to coursework, students could also acquire skills in a variety of ways including working a job, volunteering, or serving in the military, etc. All of these options could decrease the cost of degree attainment for students. With decreased costs for a college education comes a reduced need for financial. A reduction in need for financial aid would ease fiscal burdens for individual institutions as well as federal aid programs. It is important to note that a shift to a competency-based model would include an initial investment at the institutional and possibly federal and state level for development and implementation.

  1. Assessment will be easier.

It also seems that assessment would be easier in a competency-based system, or at least much more clearly focused. Right now, it seems challenging for many academic departments and institutions to identify learning goals and outcomes and find ways to document their achievement. In this new model, goals and learning outcomes would have to be clearly articulated (which would take time of course). Competency milestones on the path to degree would need to be developed to help a student know if she was on track. The assessment process wouldn’t be easy. However, the end result for student learning would be much clearer that it currently seems to be.

While there are benefits to competency-based higher education, the process to implement this model nationally would be a long, challenging road. It would require agreement that this model is the best for students and the U.S. higher education system. Once that understanding was reach, the conversation regarding which skills and knowledge would need to be demonstrated for each discipline would begin. This discussion couldn’t be resolved during a weekend retreat. It would take longer. But, that conversation has started and I am interested to see where it leads.

What benefits and challenges do you see to competency-based higher education?

A 3×5 Plan for Systematizing Assessment

As we know, there is increasing need to assess programs and services within student affairs. Not only do we need to determine how effective and efficient these initiatives are, but we also must document the achievement of the goals, especially learning goals. In the pursuit of documenting goals and identifying opportunities for improvement, any assessment is worthwhile. However, much assessment is ad hoc or happens in isolation across a program, department, or division. Student affairs professionals need to work to systematize assessment.

The plan below can help you achieve this systematization. While the focus is systematizing assessment across a division, this plan can be used to systematize assessment across any type of unit. The plan is composed of three domains: foundation, implementation, and support. Each domain has five components.


  1. Mission centered: Just like every campus that has a real or virtual center of campus, the mission should serve as the center for all assessment. It should be clear how the programs and services that are being assessed are connected to you department, division, and institutional missions.
  2. Goal grounded: The assessment should also be grounded in the goals for the division. Ideally, the goals are positioned within a strategic plan, but even with a strategic plan, there are additional goals. The goals provide focus and should act as a beacon for your work.
  3. Outcome directed: Outcomes provide the “destination postcard.” In other words, the outcomes articulate what goal achievement specifically looks like. This can include what students do, know, or value, or it may be a larger change on campus such as a reduction in the binge-drinking rate or an increase in 1st to 2nd year retention.
  4. Culture specific: Campus culture can be defined as “how we do things here” and the culture on every campus is different. This needs to be taken into account when a assessment is systematized across a division. Some campuses are centralized where all assessment processes must run through an institutional research or institutional effectiveness office. Other campuses are decentralized where assessment is left to individual offices. Some campuses are policy heavy where there is a policy for collecting assessment, for reporting assessment, and for implementing change from assessment. Other campuses are policy light and don’t have any policies for assessment work. Consider “how things are done” on your campus and adapt your assessment processes to that culture.
  5. Literature based: As student affairs professionals, we have an obligation to bring theory into practice. Many great minds are producing research that can influence student affairs work and it is up to practitioners to utilize this research. This literature helps identify what data should be collected and how it should be collected. The literature also provides context for understanding the findings.


  1. Accountability & Continuous improvement: There are two main purposes for assessment. The one most people think about is accountability. Accountability answers the questions: “Are we doing what we say we are doing, and to what extent.” We typically focus on external accountability that comes from the federal government, state legislatures, or accreditors. However, there is important internal accountability. I suspect that everyone in student affairs wants to do the best they can for students. Holding ourselves to that standard is internal accountability and it, rather than the external form, should provide the motivation to perform assessment. If we focus on internal accountability, the external accountability will take care of itself. The second, often overlooked, purpose of assessment is continuous improvement. It answers the question, “How effectively and efficiently are we doing what we say we are doing.” As we collect information to document accountability we should also be collecting data to identify opportunities for improvement. The challenge is that it often takes different types of data to document accountability compared to the data needed to discover ways to improve. Even with this challenge, it is important to find ways to answer all of these questions.
  2. Embedded: The best assessment is assessment that fosters learning in addition to documenting accountability and finding ways to improve. The best assessment is synergistic assessment. Embedding assessment in learning activities is the optimal way to achieve this synergy. Rather than thinking about assessment as something to be completed at the end of the activity, consider ways you can use assessment methods such as classroom assessment techniques to foster learning and collect data.
  3. Collaborative: Assessment is everyone’s responsibility. It cannot be recused to one person or a small number of individuals in division. Assessment should not be isolated within on office or unit. Assessment should occur across departmental lines to maximize resources and identify ways staff could work together to achieve divisional goals. It is essential to break down the silos if assessment is going to be systematized across a division.
  4. Transparent: The assessment process should be transparent. Stakeholders should know why you are assessing and how the data is being used. It is also critical during the assessment process to share the data with those stakeholders, especially students. Assessment data sharing demonstrates that assessment is important and that the information is being used for decision-making and improvement of practice.
  5. Ongoing and never ending: Systematized assessment should part of the fabric of a division. It is built into the everyday workings of the unit. As such, there is no end to assessment. Once an assessment project is completed, another one is started. There should be multiple, continuous cycles of assessment occurring if a unit wishes to achieve its goals and continuously improve.


  1. Vocal and unyielding leadership: Vocal and unyielding leadership is essential for systematizing assessment. Leaders at the program, department, and division level must continually articulate the value of assessment and provide concrete examples of the use of assessment data in decision-making, planning, and practice. There will often be times when the leader receives resistance from staff regarding assessment. This opposition is natural but should not deter the leader from moving forward with assessment. Systematizing assessment is shifting culture and that takes time.
  2. Championed: While everyone should be engaging in assessment, it is helpful to have an “assessment champion” in the division. This person understands the “big picture” of assessment in the division and nudges staff to engage in assessment. It useful that the champion is a liaison to the senior leadership so that she can provide progress reports, articulate challenges, and advocate for additional resources to support assessment across the unit.
  3. Strong infrastructure: Infrastructure includes policies, practices, and scaffolding that supports assessment. Assessment infrastructure may include a reporting process that incorporates assessment data, the development of an assessment committee to promote assessment, or a budgeting process buoyed by assessment data.
  4. Continuous capacity building: Developing the skills and knowledge to perform assessment is an on going process. Provide professional development opportunities on and off campus for staff to build and continue to hone these skills is essential for capacity building. There are many inexpensive resources available include webinars, blogs, and books to assist in this strengthening process. There should be both an individual commitment as well as a divisional commitment to capacity building.
  5. Robust resources: Assessment cannot be undertaken without resources. Oftentimes resources are financial and are needed to send people to conferences, purchase assessment tools, or contract for assessment services. But, time is as important as money. An assessment-oriented leader will understand that assessment is an investment and instead of adding assessment as an additional responsibility to staffs’ job descriptions, she will subtract responsibilities to make room for assessment tasks.

This 3×5 plan to systematizing assessment isn’t’ easy. It is culture change that takes time, energy, and patience. The change requires the investment across the organization both horizontally as well as vertically. While not an easy task, systematizing assessment has tremendous benefits for the unit, for staff, and ultimately for students.

What steps would be in your plan to systematize assessment? 

Assessment Isn’t An Activity. It’s A State of Mind.

I have said this in other venues including blogs, presentations, discussions, and my classes – “Assessment isn’t activity. It’s a state of mind.” Many people think assessment is something you do at the END of a program or delivery of a service. I argue it is something that you must consider BEFORE you even begin. Without thinking about assessment from the get go, you won’t be as effective or efficient as you can OR should be.

I have been out of the full-time student affairs assessment game for about 18 months, and upon reflection, I have realized that not only is assessment a state of mind, it is actually a particular way of thinking. Because of my assessment work over the past decade, I see the world in a particular way. And it is not just how I see higher education. It is the way I see all corners of my world. I have the same perspective if I implement a project on campus, teach a class, go grocery shopping, or deal with a flat tire on the highway 150 miles from home at 10pm at night. This way of thinking is Assessment Thinking.

Assessment Thinking is a way to conceptualize or approach an issue or problem that views assessment as a process with the following 6 steps:

  1. REFLECT. The first step is to reflect upon the issue or problem to be addressed by breaking it down into its elemental components to fully understand the complete scope of the issue. Often times, the issue is more complicated that it looks on the surface. To be able to address it, we need to fully understand its breadth and depth looking at the problem from as many perspectives as possible. In higher education, look at it through the eyes of students, faculty, staff, parents, and other constituents. An issue such as alcohol use on campus looks differently to each constituent group and this will impact other steps in the assessment thinking process.
  2. GOAL SET. In the second step, you need to determine what you want to achieve to resolve the problem or issue and develop the goals and outcomes that concretely conceptualize the end result. The goals and outcomes will serve as guideposts for the process giving you a picture of the end result. Think about “backwards design.” You need to decide what you want to achieve and then draw a road map for getting to your destination. Depending on the issue, you may need to set short-, medium-, and long-term goals. In regard to alcohol use on campus, we need to clearly define our goals. Is my goal to decrease the number of hospitalizations per academic year? Is my goal to reduce the mean Blood Alcohol Level of students taking an annual survey? Is my goal to reduce the number of alcohol incidents in the residence halls spring term? While all of these goals are related to reducing alcohol use on campus, they are all very different goals and require different  routes to reach them.
  3. CONSIDER. The third step is the consideration of the issues that will impact achievement of the goals. Consideration should include the mission and culture of the organization or institution in which you work. This step would also include consulting the literature and research to better understand the issue. For example, what might be environmental variables affecting alcohol use your particular campuses? It is also important to ponder the stakeholders and what their stakes may be in the issue. What are the perspectives of town police or local residents regarding alcohol use on campus? It is essential to contemplate the resources available to address your issue or problem. Resources are more than just money. There are fiscal, physical, human, and intellectual resources. While you may have three staff members able to contribute 25% of each of their jobs (human resources) to addressing alcohol use on campus, do they have the skills and knowledge to be able to do deal with this issue (intellectual resources) or will they need professional development which may require financial resources? Resources will dictate step four.
  4. STRATEGIZE. The fourth step is where a lot of folks start. But, it is the middle point of assessment thinking, not the beginning. During this step, the strategies and action steps are developed to address the problem, keeping in mind the learning from steps 1-3. If you decide that your goal is to reduce the number of hospitalizations resulting from excessive alcohol use, one strategy you may employ might be a peer monitoring system whereby students are tasked, formally or informally, with watching out for each other. You may also develop a medical amnesty policy whereby students will not receive judicial sanctions if a friend calls for medical assistance if they are intoxicated.
  5. MEASURE. Measurement serves two primary purposes. First, it helps you know if you achieved your goals and outcomes (accountability). Second, it helps you know what you could do better next time (improvement). Improvement doesn’t assume that goals aren’t achieved, either. Even if you did achieve your goals there may be a way to do so more effectively or efficiently. For example, can you reduce the number of hospitalizations even more? Can you do so with less money and fewer staff so those resources can be used to address other student issues?
  6. REPORT & REFINE. The final step is closing the loop. Results of your measurement should be reported to the appropriate constituent groups. They have a right to know if you achieved your goals or not. Regardless, if the goals were achieved, the recommendations for improvement should be implemented. Without reporting and refining, the assessment process isn’t complete.

The six steps above are not just an assessment process. They describe a thinking process that we should use in everything we do in higher education. We cannot impact the student experience and student learning if we are not intentional and use logic and data to inform our work. As you continue to use this thinking process, it will move from conscious to unconscious. It will become seamlessly integrated into your daily work.

I would love to hear what you think. Take a moment to share your thoughts.