NEASC Review

TO:   Gordon College Faculty
FROM:  Mark Sargent, Provost

When the NEASC evaluation team arrives for their visit on April 15-18, some of the many themes that they will examine will be our strategies for program evaluation and assessment.  I am sure that most everyone knows that “assessment” has become an increasingly prominent motif in higher education, and institutions will face growing scrutiny over their efforts to measure student learning and our own institutional effectiveness.

Gordon has long conducted program reviews and examined student learning, though our efforts have tended to be more decentralized.  Some forms of assessment—such as ten-year departmental evaluations and the administration of the NSSE and SSI instruments—have been our practice for years.  Other forms—such as “embedded assessment” in the Core—are still in early forms of development.

In our institutional self-study, we sought to describe our longstanding and emerging forms of assessment and program review, highlighting strengths and acknowledging candidly where improvements are needed.  To give shape and coherence to our endeavors, we have begun in the last few years to allude to a three-stranded approach to assessment.  Those three strands—national surveys, departmental reviews, and direct assessments of student learning—are described in the self-study.

Jerry Logan has also prepared a brief statement summarizing the three strands, which can be read below (next post).  I think it would be highly advantageous if faculty could review Jerry’s summary prior to the NEASC visit, just so everyone is generally familiar with the language that we have used to frame our efforts.  So let me thank you in advance for taking a few minutes to read through the statement.  If you have any questions about this, you can certainly direct them to Dan Russ or to me.

Best wishes,

The Three Strands of Assessment at Gordon


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.


Re-accreditation at Gordon

At least every ten years an institution’s accreditation is reviewed by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).  Gordon College’s last review was in 2002.  The review is conducted by a committee made up of representatives of various colleges and universities who represent NEASC.  Our review committee will visit Gordon April 15-18, 2012.

Prior to the visit by the NEASC committee, the institution is required to conduct its own analysis called the Self Study.  Over the last year and a half Gordon has been engaged in this self-study process, involving representatives of the entire community and this has culminated in a comprehensive report.  It is this self-study document which the NEASC committee will use as the basis for their review.

The self-study is a process which demonstrates that a college meets the standards of NEASC, has identified its strengths and is addressing its weaknesses.  Since any self-study reflects only a snap-shot in time, particular findings are perhaps less important than the overall institutional organization, plans and operation that demonstrate long-term viability.  Thus the self-study engages faculty, staff, students, alumni and trustees in a critical examination of long-range issues and concerns.

The 11 NEASC standards help guide the self-study process and insure the public that an institution meets the minimum standards for accreditation.  The NEASC standards are necessarily general in nature so they can be applied to very large universities as well as colleges much smaller than Gordon and to an array of institutions in New England with very different missions.

A Self Study is . . .

An evaluation of a College by its peers

Demonstrates the College meets Minimum Standards

Not a comparison between Institutions

A Renewal Experience

An Appraisal of Institutional Strengths and Weaknesses

Only a Snapshot in Time


Accreditation Status

Gordon College is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. through its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education.

Accreditation of an institution of higher education by the New England Association indicates that it meets or exceeds criteria for the assessment of institutional quality periodically applied though a peer-review process. An accredited college or university is one which has available the necessary resources to achieve its stated purposes through appropriate educational programs, is substantially doing so, and gives reasonable evidence that it will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Institutional integrity is also addressed through accreditation.

Accreditation by the New England Association is not partial but applies to the institution as a whole. As such, it is not a guarantee of every course or program offered, or the competence of individual graduates. Rather, it provides reasonable assurance about the quality of opportunities available to students who attend the institution.

Inquiries regarding the accreditation status by the New England Association should be directed to the administrative staff of the institution. Individuals may also contact:

Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
New England Association of Schools and Colleges

209 Burlington Road, Suite 201
Bedford, MA 01730-1433
(781) 271-0022