Be Assessment Savvy!Submitted by the Learning Assessment Committee

How do we know if students are learning what we say they should be learning? We assess! And the assessment world has been a hive of activity as of late, mainly after three essays were published in national periodicals.

Want to know what all of the buzz is about and how it relates to assessment at Harper? Read on!

Key Points of the Essays

  • “A Guide for the Perplexed” by David Eubanks
    • Eubanks’ main point is “it is difficult to use assessment results because the methods of gathering and analyzing data are very poor” (page 4). Eubanks is asking us to be more rigorous in our assessment research, which should include accounting for student characteristics when measuring learning outcomes. Printed in Intersection, a quarterly publication focusing on the practice of assessment in higher education, the article initially received a generally supportive if quiet response. That is, until Erik Gilbert’s commentary was printed in the Chronicle of Higher Education….
  • “An Insider’s Take on Assessment: It May Be Worse than You Thought” by Erik Gilbert
    • In this commentary, Gilbert explains his frustration with assessment. Using selections from the Eubanks article, Gilbert argues that there is no value in assessment as it is currently practiced, saying “it’s fairly obvious that assessment has not caused (and probably will not cause) positive changes in student learning.”
  • “The Misguided Drive to Measure ‘Learning Outcomes’” by Molly Worthen
    • From technology to bureaucracy, and jargon to employment, Worthen lists a number of her concerns not only with assessment, but also with the state of higher education more generally. Worthen’s op-ed also discusses some controversial issues related to equity across institutions and among students.

What does Harper’s Outcomes Assessment Hive Mind have to say about all of this?

  • Responses to the essays:
    • Despite the negative skew of the overall conversation, there are sweet bits of wisdom we can gather from these authors. For example, Harper already takes much of Eubanks’ advice into account, such as looking at student characteristics in Gen Ed assessment, focusing on a manageable number of outcomes, providing dedicated assessment support and analysis, and celebrating our successes at the Annual Assessment Conference and Share Fair. We should also continue to address our questions and concerns around equity in higher education.
    • There is value in learning assessment, as well as in ensuring our students know the learning outcomes of a course or program (and ensuring outcomes are the same for all students in a course). For example, good assessment and use of assessment results help us ensure student readiness for future education and employment. Let us know if you want to discuss the benefits of using assessment to make improvements in student learning.
    • There is also value in being able to show our stakeholders that we are good stewards of their tuition, taxes, and time.
    • Many accreditors have very specific requirements regarding assessment, and it’s worth noting that two of the three authors work at institutions accredited by SACS. Fortunately, HLC continues to support its members in implementing assessment practices in ways that make sense for individual institutions.
  • Advice from the queen (assessment) bee:
    • Good assessment (and use of assessment results) equates to good scholarship of teaching and learning.
    • Assessment is what you get out of it. Don’t gather useless information. Is assessment needed for compliance? Sure. But since you have to assess anyway, make it meaningful! Need help? Call Faon at 847.925.6356!
    • If you ever find yourself “[staring] at bar graphs trying to divine meaning” (Eubanks) or in a position where you “may even be tempted to just make something up” (Gilbert)—STOP what you’re doing! Call ext. 6356 right away!
    • Want to talk more? Call ext. 6356 or email

Where can I learn more?