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Unpacking Assessment

In 2005 St. John's University held a Presidential Summit, "How Do You Know if Your Students Are Learning?" The summit was led by Dr. Barbara E. Walvoord, a nationally recognized scholar on assessment.* At that time Walvoord discussed the degree to which assessment had become a national reform movement, fueled in part by calls for higher education to be more accountable for its learning standards, as well as increased scrutiny by college students and their families when selecting colleges. In the years since her visit to St. John's, the assessment movement has only increased.

Because of the growing importance of assessment in higher education, we find it necessary to provide chairs, faculty, and administrators with an introductory overview about this admittedly weighty and sometimes overwhelming term. We realize that the emphasis on assessment in education has surged in the last two decades, and that faculty and administrators who have not had the time to fully explore assessment theory or practice might benefit from some contextualization. As you go through these pages, please keep two things in mind:

  • We at St. John’s are committed to approaches to progressive assessment practices informed by best practices in the field. In accordance with those best practices, we strongly believe that assessment needs to be local and “homegrown.” This means that faculty and students, within their local disciplines, need to work together to continually imagine, develop, and act upon their assessment initiatives. Assessment, first and foremost, is about reflecting upon one’s learning. We also strongly believe that it is the administration’s job to ensure that assessment is ongoing, measurable, and informed by best practices—and that the hard work faculty put into their ongoing assessment is recognized and acted upon, and not just archived. Most of all, we recognize that the heart of assessment has its origins with faculty and students who know best about their disciplinary and programmatic needs.
  • The Office of the Provost is committed to working with all faculty and departments to help them with their assessment initiatives. We also want to make sure that all of these assessment initiatives are showcased and highlighted every semester through WEAVE, electronic portfolios, and our University web pages. Most importantly, we are committed to working with departments to act upon their ongoing assessment activities—the reports that get submitted online and placed into WEAVE should not simply be warehoused, but explored in order to identify further plans for action.

These “Unpacking Assessment” pages are intended as a living document. While originally posted by the Office of the Provost, we invite faculty, administration, and students to submit suggestions for revision as well as new information. Ultimately these pages should reflect the collaborative spirit of assessment. Please direct any suggestions, questions, or additional text to be considered to Elizabeth Ciabocchi Ed.D.

* We highly recommend Walvoord's succinct and very accessible book,  Assessment Clear and Simple: A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education (2nd ed., Jossey-Bass 2010).