Montana State University

Policy 2.2

2.2 Policy on Educational Assessment

The Commission on Colleges expects each institution and program to adopt an assessment plan responsive its mission and its needs. In so doing, the Commission urges the necessity of a continuing process of academic planning, the carrying out of those plans, the assessment of the outcomes, and the influencing of the planning process by the assessment activities.

Background. As noted in Standard Two, implicit in the mission statement of every post secondary institution is the education of students. Consequently, each institution has an obligation to plan carefully its courses of instruction to respond to student needs, to evaluate the effectiveness of that educational program in terms of the change it brings about in students, and to make improvements in the program dictated by the evaluative process. Assessment of educational quality has always been at the heart of the accreditation process. In earlier times, this assessment tended to focus more upon process measures and structural features; hence, there was considerable emphasis placed upon resources available to enhance students' educational experiences such as the range and variety of graduate degrees held by members of the faculty, the number of books in the library, the quality of specialized laboratory equipment, and the like. More recently, while still stressing the need to assess the quantity and quality of the whole educational experience, the communities of interest served by the accreditation enterprise have come to appreciate the validity and usefulness of using output evaluations and assessment as well as input measures.

Nearly every postsecondary institution accredited by the Commission on Colleges engages in some type of outcomes assessment. Some are more formalized than others; some more quantified; some less so; some well-developed and long-utilized, and some of more recent origin and implementation. The intent of Commission policy is to stress outcomes assessment as an essential part of the ongoing institutional self-study and accreditation processes, to underline the necessity for each institution to formulate a plan which provides for a series of outcomes measures that are internally consistent and in accord with its mission and structure, and, finally, to provide some examples of a variety of successful plans for assessing educational outcomes.

Central to the outcomes analyses or assessments are judgments about the effects of the educational program upon students. These judgments can be made in a variety of ways and can be based upon a variety of data sources. The more data sources that contribute to the overall judgment, the more reliable that judgment would seem to be. There follows a list of several outcomes measures, which, when used in appropriate combinations and informed by the institutional mission, could yield an efficacious program of outcomes assessment. This list is intended to be illustrative and exemplary as opposed to prescriptive and exhaustive.

a. Student Information.

From what sources does the institution acquire its students? What percentage from high school? Community college transfers? Transfers from other institutions? What blend of gender, age group, and ethnicity has the institution attracted over time? Retained over time? Graduated over time? What is the mean measured aptitude, over time, of entering students? What are the local grade distribution trends? What changes have appeared over time?

b. Mid-Program Assessments.

If the institution has some kind of required writing course or an emphasis on writing across the curriculum, what evidence is there that students are better writers after having been exposed to the course or curriculum? How are these judgments rendered? If student writing improves, do students appear to retain this newly acquired proficiency? If so, why so, and if not, why not? What changes are planned as a result of the assessment exercise?

A required course, program, or sequence in mathematics can be assessed in a similar fashion. What evidence is there that the skills improved or declined as a result or the program? How are these judgments rendered? Does the improvement appear permanent or transitory? How has the program been changed as a result of the assessment program?

A required course, program, or sequence in any subject matter can be addressed in a similar fashion as can nearly any part of the program in general education of the program as a whole.

c. End of Program Assessment.

What percentage of those students who enter an institution graduate? Is the percentage increasing or decreasing? Why? What is the mean number of years in which students graduate? Is that mean increasing or decreasing? Why? What are the criteria for these judgments? What is the several-year retention pattern from one class to the next, such as freshman to sophomore? If patterns reflect significant losses between one level and another, what are the reasons? Similar questions may be asked by gender and/or ethnic background. If the institution or program requires a capstone experience at the end of the curriculum, are present students performing better or worse than their predecessors? What are the reasons? What are the bases for the judgments? (e.g. "The cumulative judgment of the faculty is that the quality of the senior theses in art has improved during the past five years. This judgment is based upon the following evidence..." or "The Psychology Department requires the advanced test on the Graduate Record Examination of all graduates. These scores have declined by an average of 2% each year for the past five years. The faculty is of the opinion that the reasons for this decline are...")

d. Program Review and Specialized Accreditation.

Some institutions require periodic program review of each academic program, either through an institutionally approved internal process and/or through seeking and achieving specialized accreditation, or by utilizing external experts. Either or both of these activities can provide a wealth of outcome assessment data, particularly if the methodology remains somewhat standardized over time.

e. Alumni Satisfaction and Loyalty.

A number of institutions engage in a variety of alumni surveys which elicit, over time, the judgments of alumni of the efficacy of their educational experience in a program or at an institution. Use of such a mechanism can assist an institution in understanding whether alumni satisfaction with various aspects of the educational program, particularly those facets which the institution stresses, appears to be growing or diminishing over time. If satisfaction is increasing why? If decreasing, why? What are the bases for the judgments? What curricular implications do these findings have?

f. Dropouts/Non-completers.

What methods has the institution utilized to determine the reasons why students drop out or otherwise do not complete a program once they have enrolled in it? What is the attrition rate over the past five years? Is it increasing or decreasing? What are the reasons? What programs or efforts does the institution engage to enhance student retention? Which tactics have proved to be efficacious?

g. Employment and/or Employer Satisfaction Measures.

One relatively straightforward outcome measure used by some institutions concerns that number and/or percentage of former students who have sought and found employment. Are they happy with what they have found? Do they think the program has prepared them well for their chosen occupations? If trained in a particular area, teacher education, for example, have they found a teaching position?

Other institutions have found qualitative comments of frequent employers to be particularly helpful in assessing educational outcomes. Do the employers regularly recruit program graduates? Why or why not? How well do program graduates perform in compassion with graduates from other similar programs? Are there areas of the curriculum in which program graduates are particularly well prepared? Which areas? Why is preparation judged to be particularly good? Where are the weaknesses? Why? What is being done to provide remedial activity?

Adopted 1992