Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Sense-Making of Institutionalizing Assessment

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Sense-Making of Institutionalizing Assessment

Article excerpt


Interviews and focus groups were held with key college constituents (administrators, faculty members, program coordinators and department chairs) to better understand the process of implementing and sustaining assessment practices in research-intensive commuter institution in the mid-south. Processes that facilitate or hinder institutionalization of assessment are discussed, in light of recent theoretical frameworks.


Discussions pertaining to institutional change abound (duToit, 1996; Fullan,1991; Pantake, 1998). Some believe that change is best described as a process rather than an event and that there is a need for ongoing management of organizational culture in order to sustain a change. This article will review observations about the process of implementing assessment practices in two different colleges within a research-intensive commuter institution in the mid-south. Key elements of successful implementation processes, as well as barriers to institutionalizing assessment, will be discussed. A useful definition of assessment will be shared to set the context for this work:

   Assessment is the systematic collection, review, and use of
   information about educational programs undertaken for the
   purpose of improving student learning and development
   (Palomba Banta, 1999, p. 4).

Institutionalization of assessment, thus, further requires that information be systematically collected, reviewed, and used to improve learning (Palomba & Banta, 1999) as a given part of an institution's culture. Suskie (2001) recognizes institutionalization as a "culture shift," and Barr (1998) echoes the notion of significant change, which involves a fundamental transformation of structures and processes related to assessment. Huba and Freed (2000) note two related but distinct dimensions involved in moving to an assessment culture at the organizational level. First is the importance of the mission, which emphasizes student learning as opposed to providing instruction, and second is the shift to functioning as a learning organization. The literature is rich with prerequisites for successful implementation: a clear and consistent vision with a defined process; faculty involvement and shared ownership; and long-term support, resources, and a recognition or reward system for those who embrace the new culture (Huba & Freed, 2000; Palomba & Banta, 1999; Suskie (Ed.), 2001; NAAL, 2003).

With regard to the first prerequisite, a clear vision toward assessment is an institution-level responsibility (Barr, 1998; Doherty et al., 2002; Sewall, 1996). This responsibility begins with, and must be driven by, the university mission (NAAL, 2003; Sewall, 1996, p. 331). Furthermore, there is an ongoing responsibility to keep the plan as visible as possible on campus so that all parties understand the process as it is occurring (Doherty et al., 2002; Tierney, 2001). The second prerequisite is faculty understanding, buy-in, and involvement (Huba and Freed, 2000; Palomba & Banta, 1999; Suskie, 2001). Two extremes demonstrate the importance of this prerequisite. In one instance, Palomba and Banta (1999) suggest that perhaps no single factor is more influential than faculty involvement in the successful implementation of an assessment culture, and that faculty resistance can be the greatest challenge. In addition, Davies and Hadden (2002) stress the need for the cooperation between administrators and faculty in developing an assessment culture. Long-term support and resources, the third prerequisite for successful implementation, is largely the responsibility of administrators. The support must be continuous, come in a variety of forms, and must meet the needs of the users (Pankake, 1998).

This study sought to achieve two major goals: first, to further the understanding of the institutionalization process, and second, to determine whether or not the processes were similar between two different colleges within the same institution. …

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