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Assessment Myths & Realities

Myth #1: External accountability is the most important goal of assessment. We assess programs because NEASC says we must.

Reality: First and foremost, Simmons College uses assessment results to improve student learning and advance the College.

Myth #2: Collecting student work for program assessment purposes requires student consent.

Reality: Student work collected for program assessment does not require student consent. Program assessment is excluded from the Committee on Human Studies/Institutional Review Board (IRB) review because it does not meet the definition of research. The Code of Federal Regulations found at 45 CFR 46.102(d) defines research in part as contributing to generalizable knowledge. Program assessment per se does not meet this definition. Program assessment does not violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) if all personally identifiable information is removed before releasing student information. Please note that FERPA does allow disclosure of personally identifiable information of a student without written consent if that disclosure is to an accrediting organization or to other college officials and faculty members and Simmons College has determined that those officials and faculty members have legitimate educational interests (see FERPA section 99.31).

Myth #3: Assessment of student is a means of decreasing faculty's autonomy.

Reality: Assessment of student learning is a means of increasing the mutual engagement of faculty, students, and staff in providing an optimal learning experience. Assessment is a tool for faculty members to improve student learning. Assessment at Simmons College is faculty initiated, driven, and supervised.

Myth #4: Assessment is another academic fad and if Simmons College waits long enough, it will go away.

Reality: Every indication we have says assessment is here to stay. The outcomes assessment movement has been a serious one since 1985. Its momentum is growing not waning. All higher education accreditation agencies (including NEASC) across the country now include the assessment of learning outcomes as one of their priorities.

Myth #5: Assessment is about finding fault.

Reality: Assessment is not about finding fault with programs, courses, or individuals; it is about agreeing on what is most important in our courses and programs, communicating that to all stakeholders, and finding out what's working and what's not. Great assessment results can and should be used to trumpet success, market programs, motivate faculty, students, and staff, and justify a program's worth. Less-than-satisfactory assessment results indicate that changes need to be made so students reach our expectations.

Myth #6: The most efficient way to carry out assessment is to assign a single faculty member the responsibility of conducting all the assessments. Too many people and opinions would only complicate and hinder the process.

Reality: While it is a good idea to have one or two faculty members spearhead the assessment process for the department, it is really important and beneficial to have faculty members involved. Each person brings different perspectives and ideas for improving the academic program. It is vital that all faculty members understand and agree to the mission, goals, and learning outcomes of the program.

Myth #7:Course grades are adequate indicators of student learning.

Reality: Traditionally, the assignment of a grade to an individual student provides a summary measure about the student's performance in the class. Usually, grades do not convey direct information about which of the program learning outcomes were met or how well the student met the outcomes.

However, there are ways to use grades in assessment. For example, when a team of faculty review the student's course work and assign the course grade based on how well the student achieved a set of program outcomes.

Myth #8: Surveys of student satisfaction with a course or program are sufficient evidence of student learning.

Reality: Student satisfaction surveys are indirect measures of student learning, that is, they measure student perception of learning rather than actual learning. As a result, indirect measures are not sufficient evidence of student learning; however, they can provide useful and actionable insight when coupled with direct measures of learning.

Myth #9: There are too many students to assess and a sample of students would not demonstrate the effectiveness of a program.

Reality: Sampling can be an efficient method of collecting student work, provided the sample is representative of the students you want to assess and large enough to confidently make generalizations.

Myth #10: We need to assess every outcome and every student every year. All learning outcomes have to be assessed every year.

Reality: NEASC does not that every outcome and every student be assessed every year. However, there should be a plan for all outcomes to be systematically assessed on a regular cycle. Note: Some colleges/schools have professional accreditation agencies that have different and often more stringent requirements than NEASC requirements.

Myth #11: I don't know where to start or what to do. There is no support available.

Reality: There are on the Simmons College campus to help your department/program get started or refine current assessment efforts. The Assessment Office will help with planning assessment projects, developing learning outcomes, conducting assessments, and interpreting/using results.

Myth #12: Conducting surveys and other forms of data collection for program or course assessment requires IRB approval.

Reality: According to Code of Federal Regulations pertaining to Human Subjects Research (46.101 (b) (1-2), the following types of activity are exempt from IRB review:

1) Research conducted in established or commonly accepted educational settings, involving normal educational practices, such as (i) research on regular and special education instructional strategies, or (ii) research on the effectiveness of or the comparison among instructional techniques, curricula, or classroom management methods.

2) Research involving the use of educational tests (cognitive, diagnostic, aptitude, achievement), survey procedures, interview procedures or observation of public behavior, unless: (i) information obtained is recorded in such a manner that human subjects can be identified, directly or through identifiers linked to the subjects; and (ii) any disclosure of the human subjects' responses outside the research could reasonably place the subjects at risk of criminal or civil liability or be damaging to the subjects' financial standing, employability, or reputation.

See "What Assessment Personnel Need to Know about IRBs" for a more complete discussion of this issue.

Source: University of Hawaii Assessment Office.