The Three Strands of Assessment at Gordon College
Assessment at Gordon has evolved in separate strands, due partly to its decentralized development in different departments and partly to the developing sophistication of methodologies in the field. As the developments and improvements have continued apace in the separate departments, we have begun to describe the broadly-conceived elements as a three-stranded philosophy of outcomes assessment at Gordon. This approach is designed to “synthesize all academic assessment efforts into a coherent strategy,” as called for by the most recent strategic plan Faithful Expectations. The three strands are numbered for ease of description, not a priority order. The three strands also overlap since they are aimed at the same goal; understanding what is the outcome of a Gordon College education.
Strand One: National Surveys and Assessments
The first strand is comprised of a collection of surveys coordinated by the Office of College Planning, including NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement), CIRP (Cooperative Institutional Research Program), and SSI (Student Satisfaction Inventory). Through regular participation in these surveys, Gordon is able to measure itself along a variety of dimensions against national norms and several peer groups.
Over time the mix of instruments has changed as we have moved from simply gauging student opinion in self-report surveys to actually measuring the level of student engagement (NSSE) and more direct assessment of student learning through the Collegiate Learning Assessment test (CLA) where first-year students and seniors are actually tested and scores are compared with their SATs as well as how their performances measure up against other institutions.
In an attempt to answer the question what is the outcome of a Gordon College education we are using the CLA both on an annual basis and in a longitudinal assessment project. 2011-12 is the third year we have administered the CLA to freshmen and seniors. From those scores we are gaining some insight from the differences in those scores. In the fall of 2011 we were able to garner enough scores of first-year students so that we will have a sample to compare in their senior year in the spring of 2015.
Finally, the dean of college planning has developed an in-house outcomes survey for classes of graduates five and 10 years after graduation. Since 2003 we have done three five-year and three ten-year surveys asking questions about work and graduate education as well as their community and religious involvements addressing the ultimate question: What is the outcome of a Gordon College education?
The results are shared generally in venues such as faculty meetings and Provost’s Forums in order to raise awareness regarding pressing issues and to keep faculty and staff current in their knowledge of higher education and Gordon students in particular. On a deeper level, committees and task forces—such as the Core Committee and the Provost’s Commission on the First-Year Experience—rely on more specific survey data to drive planning and refinement efforts.
Strand Two: Ten-Year Departmental Reviews
The second strand of assessment consists of a cycle of departmental reviews where every academic department has completed at least one since the last NEASC accreditation review in 2002. Overseen by the academic dean and the Academic Programs Committee (APC), these reviews include a thorough self-study that explores a set of strategic questions approved by the APC. Also incorporated into the self-study are statements of departmental outcomes and objectives, a basic data report from the past ten years, and surveys of current students and graduates from the department. Following the completion of the departmental self-study, there is a two-day site visit by a team of external and internal evaluators, a formal report from the review team, and a departmental response. These reviews provide a comprehensive assessment of the current departmental curriculum and an assessment of how graduates are doing. The academic dean then conducts periodic follow-up meetings with the department chair to ensure that progress is being made based on the findings of the review.
The College intends to continue the reviews so that they are repeated every 10 years. The provost has utilized the same format for each of his administrative units so that they are also completing comprehensive 10-year reviews to assess the effectiveness of their programs.
Strand Three: Direct Assessments of Student Learning
The third strand is direct assessment of student learning and learning goals. These include department-specific assessments and the assessment of general education in the Core Curriculum. Assessments within the academic departments are linked to departmental learning objectives and consist of a variety of assignments, including capstone experiences, portfolios, licensure examinations, juried performances, senior research projects, theses as well as other direct measures demonstrating how students are meeting departmental learning objectives.
Many of the departmental learning objectives (especially in education, natural science and social science) are tied to the Massachusetts teacher education learning outcomes. The fine arts departments follow a long tradition of senior portfolios and juried performances. Other departments have developed capstone courses, senior projects and even honors theses.
With the most recent change in our Core Curriculum (2010), the academic dean directed the development of an embedded assessment program to measure student learning in the Core. Largely using existing assignments in lower- and upper-level Core courses, this embedded assessment initiative will also seek to measure student learning longitudinally. Embedded assessment is in its earliest stages at Gordon.