Strategies for Effective Assessment

There are many approaches to achieve effective assessment. This web page is intended to provide a number of strategies and instruments that you may find useful in your own assessment project. It will continue to grow as you offer suggestions, share your most effective assessment instruments, and provide new approaches.

  • There are many kinds of assessment efforts that are an integral part of Ferris State University.

    • Program review has a long history at Ferris of providing academic programs, now including general education and pre-programs, with an opportunity to evaluate their success and challenges so that they can continue to meet the demands of the changing work world and educational needs of students.
    • Capstone courses provide programs with a concentrated opportunity for faculty to evaluate the extent to which students have achieved the learning outcomes expected by the program and whether any changes are needed in the curriculum and program to help students better meet these outcomes.
    • There has been a long history of general education assessment including the former administration of the nationally-normed Academic Profile (now Proficiency Profile) which allows us to compare ourselves with other institutions, the every-other-year administration of the NSSE, regular assessment of students' writing, and many other assessment initiatives.
    • Courses' assessment is a significant part of our effort to enhance student learning. Some assessment includes gathering data on multi-section courses, such as the Freshman Seminar or Freshman Composition, to determine whether the course is meeting students' needs and they are acquiring the skills or knowledge at the levels we expect. Every course offers faculty the opportunity to assess their students' learning so that changes can be made where necessary in content, pedagogy, learning environment, and/or assessment methods so that they can better achieve the course outcomes.

    Assessment is important because it lets us know where we can make changes to improve student learning. It is about taking effective action. All learning outcomes, assessment methods, standards, and reporting are the responsibility of faculty with expertise in the particular areas being reviewed. 

  • Assessment can only be effective if we are clear about what we want to assess. The assessment of student learning begins then with carefully stating what outcomes we expect from our classes or programs. Below are some outcomes that could effectively lead to assessment.

    • Graduates will be able to be able to perform a complete, professional audit of the financial records of a model company of which they are unfamiliar.
    • Graduates will be able to design an effective advertising campaign - including an identification of the key media, suggestion of appropriate branding, and the preparation of copy - and make an engaging presentation to a client.
    • Graduates will be able to perform an oral examination of selected patients and correctly identify all key problems.
    • At the end of this course, students will be able to explain the impact of historical factors - including the changing knowledge of the general public, shifting attitudes towards technology, basic changes in cultural attitudes, the shifts in readership, the role of editors, and the changing media - on the development of the form and content of the science fiction genre.
    • At the end of this course, students will be able to successful apply appropriate lab techniques and a knowledge of chemistry to identify several unknown inorganic substances.
    • At the end of this course, students will be able to diagnose, explain, and repair several different problems in the electrical system of a motor vehicle.

    Of course, part of effective assessment is knowing what level of competency we expect from students. It is unlikely and unrealistic to expect 100% of the students to have 100% competency. Do we expect 90% of the students to be able to apply key concepts of macro-economics to successfully analyze economic cases with 75% correct responses? Do we expect 80% of the students in a business writing course to achieve Very Strong on six out of eight criteria on their Analytic Long Report. Many programs such as those in the Health Sciences know fairly accurately what would be an excellent result by their students on certification exams which in turn provide very good feed back on the relative success of the programs. We can only be effective at assessment if we know what we really expect our students to learn and with what levels of success.

    Often Less is More. We cannot assess everything without being overwhelmed. To effectively assess student learning, we need to identify what it is most important for us to learn about our students and target that outcome for research.

  • Capstones are often final courses or internships in a program. They provide an excellent opportunity to identify whether students have acquired the central knowledge and skills that are the carefully selected outcomes expected of the program. There are many different approaches that can be used effectively in capstone courses. If you are interested in developing your capstone assessment, contact Robert VonderOsten at 591-2916. There are many on campus with expertise in different models who can work with you in enhancing your own assessment effort.

    The key to capstone assessment is determining the strengths and weaknesses of students in achieving your outcome expectations so that you can determine how to develop the program to enhance student performance.

    Capstone assessment may also want to assess broader skills important to our graduates such as problem solving, computer literacy, team work, communication skills, and even the reading of professional material.

    Simulations and Team Projects. Students can be provided with situations or problems which model the kinds of work expected of them. Working together or as part of a team, they need to bring together the learning emphasized in the program. A rubric which provides a model for evaluating the different skill sets may be used to analyze the successful application of different expectations. Evaluations can be done by the faculty member, teams of faculty members from outside the program, and even by outside representatives from the field. It is important to make this more than an evaluation of particular students by identifying the patterns of performance. Are there some elements that are performed well by most students? Are there any areas of consistent under-performance by a number of students? Such data can be useful in determining if any area of the curriculum needs strengthening. For example, if one of the expectations is that students be able to work effectively in a team to solve a problem but team work is fairly contentious and disorganized, then perhaps the program would need to make training and practice at working as a team a more significant part of the curriculum.

    Portfolio Evaluations. Students may be asked to maintain a portfolio of their work over the course of their curriculum and then prepare and present their portfolio as part of a capstone course. This might be combined with some final projects as part of the portfolio. Such portfolios may be presented by students or simply collected and evaluated. Again, the portfolios need to be organized and evaluated according to a pre-established rubric which identifies the key areas to assess and the criteria for evaluation that measures the key outcomes expected of graduates. They may be evaluated by faculty or by people in the field or a combination. The key is to look for patterns. If even 20% of the portfolios for the Technical Communication program were found to have weak proofreading skills (not in fact the case), this would be a serious matter that would need to be addressed in the curriculum.

    There are many different ways to collect and evaluate portfolios. Students may be asked to select their best work, have work representative of different areas of expectations or representing different courses, or have work representing their development. The portfolio could be assessed as a whole or earlier work can be assessed against earlier work to measure development.

    Tests. Tests can be effective assessment measures if constructed carefully. If the goals of capstone assessment is to evaluate student learning for the program and not just that course, any test cannot simply be on the material covered in the capstone. The test would need to be tied to the core outcomes with questions that are relevant to those core outcomes. The analysis of the test results should look not just at the performance of individual students but the general success of students on the key questions. If the goal of a program would be for students to be able to analyze whether a specific material would be able to accept measurable stress, a high success rate by most students on most such questions would indicate curricula success. If, however, fifty percent of students had problems with a majority of such questions, faculty in a program would need to consider whether the problem was with the test or with the learning of the material. Perhaps the course is early enough in the curricula that the relevant material also needs to be incorporated and reviewed in later courses.

    External certification tests can also be useful measures of the success of a program. However, the overall scores of students on such instruments is not sufficient information. If possible, it is useful to have an analysis of student performance on different areas of the test. If such certification test doesn't provide such analytic information, obviously in house instruments, even if sample certification tests, would be necessary to gain a better picture of the strengths and weaknesses of student learning.

    Internships and Clinical Experiences. Internships and clinical experiences are an integral and important part of a Ferris education. They provide students with an opportunity to practice what they have learned in a work situation while they can still get valuable feedback on their performance. Internships and clinical experiences are also excellent assessment opportunities. A structured rubric can provide analytic information about our students' performance provided either by the professional in the field or a supervising faculty member. By identifying patterns of performances across a number of students, programs can gain solid data on where students are best prepared and where they would benefit from additional learning opportunities.

    Specific Projects or Assignments. Students can be given a specific project or assignment that will allow programs to evaluate how well they have prepared the students to meet the expectations of the program. Students in an English major might be asked to prepare a literary analysis of a work of their choice suitable for presentation at a conference that accepts student presentations. The work can then be evaluated based on an analytic rubric. If thirty percent of the resulting reports were found to have scored as weak in integrating secondary sources in the critique, then this could be identified as a part of the curriculum that would need to be strengthened. For projects or assignments to provide useful information about the learning in the program, they cannot be specific just to that course but draw on overall learning in the program.

  • Standardized instruments or surveys, while they have their use, may often be seen by students as being external to their real course work. Many students may not provide their best effort on an assessment instrument that is not graded and is not seen as an integral part of their course work.

    Assessment can be done effectively with samples of material that are integrated into the graded work of a course.

    • Test questions that may tie to a key outcome that is being assessed can be included in the actual test used in the course, even across multiple sections. 
    • Portfolios collect work already done as part of different courses.
    • Pre and post instruments, such as a writing sample, can be included as assignments within one or multiple sections.
    • Projects done in multiple courses in an area could be used to assess a broader skill such as problem solving or team work using one common rubric.

    The best assessment can draw on what we already do within our course work without creating an excessive amount of extra work for either teacher or faculty member.

  • Not all assessment needs to be about learning over the entire course. Often we need to know the pattern of our students' learning during the course itself so we know what we may need to review, expand upon, or approach from a different perspective. Quizzes, even ungraded quizzes, are one vehicle many faculty use to measure not only the learning of individual students but the pattern of learning across the course.

    Assessment need not wait for a quiz. There are many simple activities that can be done during the class or at the end of the class that can provide useful information to adjust instruction so students can learn more effectively.

    • Students can be asked to briefly explain in their own words a concept covered in class on a sheet of paper. Quickly flipping through their responses can give us a snapshot of how well the concept is understood and what the common confusions might be. This can then serve to direct follow-up instruction either that class or during the next class.
    • At the end of a class, students can be asked to turn in paper indicating two things confusing them that they still need explained. 
    • Students can be given a problem or case to solve in class. The success rate and areas of difficulty can be quickly evaluated.
    • Students can complete short, anonymous surveys.

    Many of our teaching activities can be easily turned into assessment tools to give us good, immediate data on our student learning which, in turn, allows us to direct our teaching toward the identified needs.