Assessment is a cyclical process of events undertaken to ensure the performance, integrity, and quality of educational institutions, their programs, and courses. This process affirms confidence in those institutions to the educational community and the general public. Assessment happens at many levels of an institution from large self-studies for accreditation purposes to small internal course reviews.
Although the specific procedures of assessment differ, the overall cycle remains the same. Institutional assessment at all levels has a planning phase to engage all stakeholders and define the expected outcomes, a measuring phase where data is collected and organized, and an improving phase where data is analyzed to compare the actual outcome to the expected outcome to find areas for improvement.
While individual goals for assessment vary by project and initiative, the overall goals of educational assessment are shared. They include:
- Cultivating excellence by developing criteria and guidelines for measuring educational quality and institutional effectiveness.
- Promoting continuous improvement through periodic self-study and evaluation.
- Certifying to the educational community, the general public, and other organizations that an institution has clearly defined and appropriate educational objectives.
- Demonstrating that the conditions exist under which those objectives can reasonably be achieved.
- Ensuring that the institution is substantially accomplishing their objectives, and that the institution is organized, staffed, and supported, with clear expectations that it will continue to be so.
The overarching theme of the challenges facing many institutions is that there is not an organized and collective process for evaluation and assessment. Outcomes Assessment provides the tools that can leverage technology to standardize processes, preserve data, and link goals throughout an institution.
These tools make it easier to engage busy faculty and administrators by shortening the time they have to spend on committees, and simplifying the assessment processes for direct measures of student learning. At the same time the unique environments of individual departments and respect for academic autonomy and freedom are preserved.