Since the late-1980s, with the emergence of the so-called assessment movement, there has been a growing need for IS departments to develop comprehensive assessment and continuous improvement plans for their programs. This requisite has also been stipulated by accreditation bodies such as ABET(www.abet.org) and AACSB (www.aacsb.edu) which require that institutions use a documented process incorporating relevant data to regularly assess their educational objectives and program outcomes, and to evaluate the extent to which these are being met. The business community, as well as national and international organizations, has also called on higher education to increase its "accountability"(Schneider, 2002). For this purpose, many IS departments today are allocating resources and are engaging various stakeholders to design and implement formalized program assessment processes. An assessment process is an ongoing cycle that typically consists of three main steps, namely planning, implementation / monitoring, and continuous improvement. In the planning phase,
Program Educational Objectives(PEOs), corresponding expected Program Outcomes(POs), and assessment instruments are articulated(Martell and Calderon, 2005). In the second phase, the assessment instruments are used to collect assessment data, which is subsequently analyzed.
Actual outcomes are also compared with expected outcomes and results are disseminated. Finally, the continuous improvement phase will close the assessment loop by developing a list of program strengths and weaknesses and by introducing the appropriate changes in curriculum design, teaching methods and/or program objectives. These changes are also used as a feedback mechanism for the next planning phase.
A key step in the program assessment process is the establishment of formal assessment techniques to measure POs. These techniques can provide answers the classical question "What do our students know, and how can we prove that knowledge has been gained?"(Buzzetto-More and Alade, 2006). For this purpose, IS departments have been experimenting with various assessment instruments, both direct and indirect. Direct assessments provide for the direct examination or observation of student knowledge or skills against measurable program outcomes. These can provide evidence that students can demonstrate knowledge or a skill that is directly linked to specific performance criteria that define the program outcomes. Indirect assessments tools, on the other hand, ascertain the perceived extent or value of learning experiences. They usually assess opinions or thoughts about student knowledge or skills and are subject to self-bias. As evidence of student learning, indirect measures are generally not as strong as direct measures. As a result, accreditation bodies are paying special attention to evidences in using direct assessment instruments to help identify and implement program improvements.
Among the direct assessment instruments, the usage of the senior exit exam(known also as Major Field Test or MFT) has received considerable attention since it has the potential to provide a direct measure of student learning. Further, senior exit exams enable summative evaluation for judging the worth of a program at the end of the program activities. This is opposed to formative evaluation for judging the worth of a program while the program activities are forming(in progress). While formative assessment methods focus on process, the summative methods, including senior exit exams, on the other hand focus on outcomes by checking if the objectives have actually been met and by judging the value or worth of these objectives(Kirkpatrick, 1994). Figure 1 highlights our process flow of using the senior exit exam as a tool to assess the extent to which Program Outcomes(POs) are being met.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
In addition to their usage as instruments to measure students' achievement of expected outcomes at the conclusion of their major, senior exit exams provide departments with:
* Record of substantiated and documented evidence of performance and continuous improvement over time for program accreditation purposes;
* Feedback on students' cumulative gains in learning specific knowledge/skill areas. …