Evaluating an Assessment Tool for Undergraduate Social Work Education: Analysis of the Baccalaureate Educational Assessment Package

Article excerpt

RECENTLY, JOSEPH BURKE (1999) posed a question in the title of an article, "The Assessment Anomaly: If Everyone's Doing It, Why Isn't More Getting Done?" (p. 3). Burke chose to rephrase an earlier observation by Ted Marchese, then vice-president of the American Association for Higher Education, who said, "If assessment is such a wonderful idea, why aren't more people doing it?" (Burke, 1999, p. 3). Both statements reflect an awareness of the current state of assessment efforts in higher education. Although most institutions are on the assessment bandwagon, the efforts reflect a mixed collection of results, participation, and support (Banta, 2000; Ewell, 2002).

There are many "masters" when it comes to the number of entities that want assessment information from institutions of higher education. These include legislators, parents, students, state commissions on higher education, and large funders as well as regional and disciplinary accreditation bodies (Ewell, 2000a, 2000b; Banta, 2001). There are also many varied approaches as programs experiment with how best to respond to the various demands. Just as assessment programs vary at the institutional level, assessment at the discipline level varies tremendously, both within a single discipline and more so between disciplines.

Palomba and Banta (2001) focus on eight disciplines in their edited text on assessing student competence in academic disciplines. These eight disciplines (education, pharmacy, nursing, business, computer science, engineering, visual arts, and social work) all have assessment challenges, some that are unique to a specific discipline and a few that are common to all. In this text, pharmacy educators report that their profession is doing well in assessing student knowledge and that they are improving in their assessment of skills. However, measuring values is still very elusive for them. Nursing educators are seeking a paradigm shift from a behaviorist approach to a competence-based model. Within this shift, nursing faculty are grappling with identifying what knowledge and skills are necessary for their graduates to practice successfully. Palomba and Banta (2001) point out that a consistent challenge across the disciplines presented in their book is the engagement and commitment of faculty in the process of assessment.

One discipline in which assessment has been incorporated fairly successfully is social work (Palomba &Banta, 2001). Several factors account for this "apparent" acceptance of assessment. First, both baccalaureate and master's social work programs have to meet national accrediting standards that require ongoing assessment. Second, members of the social work profession have been increasingly attentive to the need to measure the outcomes of work with client systems of all sizes. Consequently, efforts to assess educational outcomes found fertile ground in social work programs. Finally, most undergraduate social work programs share similar curricula and objectives, making it easier to develop and share assessment approaches across institutions.

This commonality has allowed for the development of an assessment package that can be used by most undergraduate social work education programs. The Baccalaureate Education Assessment Package (BEAP) was created by a team of faculty from several different institutions across the country (the authors) with the support of the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors (BPD). The BEAP (Rodenhiser, 2001), which was tested for 2 years prior to its use and is based upon curricular and educational objectives established by accreditation standards. Consisting of multiple instruments, machine scannable answer sheets, and reports back to participating institutions, the package can promote comparative norms. The package is grounded in program monitoring evaluation theory and offers a baseline of useful information from which programs can branch out to include other measures deemed appropriate or required at a particular institution. …