Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Getting Real: Implementing General Education Assessment That Works

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Getting Real: Implementing General Education Assessment That Works

Article excerpt

Abstract

Implementing assessment of general education outcomes in an institution with churning diverse enrollments and a lack of control over entering and exiting of students is a challenge. Utilization of a stratified proportionate random selection of course sections, and cooperation of teachers and students leads to a representative sample using ACT's College Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP), which supports effective assessment generalizations. Closing the assessment loop by providing not only feedback to the college community but also by collecting responses to the feedback and promoting a continuing dialogue promote improved student learning and institutional change.

Introduction

Those designing institutional level assessment of general education face the challenges of balancing the ideals of "textbook perfect" research against the realities of their institution. Sometimes these conflicts result in paralysis as stakeholders fail in compromise. During the past several years faculty members on the Student Outcomes Assessment committee (SOAC) at College of DuPage (COD) designed and implemented general education assessments using ACT's CAAP (College Assessment of Academic Proficiency) combined with student tracking information in a college-wide sampling of students. The results of this assessment have been used to encourage changes ranging from individual classrooms to college-wide efforts. (Those interested in activities at classroom and discipline-program levels are encouraged to visit our web site at .)

As a community college in suburbs west of Chicago, COD faces a college mission with a variety of expectations in serving more than thirty thousand students. One part of the COD mission involves providing general education to students with transfer (52%), graduation (33%), occupational-vocational (5%), and personal interest (2%) goals. True to the ideals of multiple indicators and measures, the College had in place several approaches to assessment of student learning and success. While consideration of persistence, transfer rates, transfer students' success, alumni and employer surveys, and degree completion serve as external indicators, faculty members sought more direct indicators of general education skills.

The challenges of general education institutional assessment can be divided into at least four sets of issues:

* One set of issues focuses on defining general education outcomes and then operationalizing that definition with appropriate instrumentation.

* A second set of issues focuses on implementing the measures defined including identifying, recruiting, and testing a representative sample.

* A third challenge is analyzing the results.

* A fourth set of issues focuses on using the results of these efforts to close-the-loop, to use the feedback to improve student learning.

Responding to these challenges COD faculty with support from administration designed and implemented four rounds of standardized testing. This effort resulted in two annual reports, which have been shared with the college community. This and other closing-the-loop activities have resulted in some observed changes among faculty and institutional responses.

Defining What's to Be Tested and How It's to Be Measured

As with any inquiry, the first steps involve identifying what one intends to study. Answering the first question, "What is general education?" is a challenge faced at any institution attempting general education assessment. Discussion and debate about the meaning of "general education" can occupy years and careers. A choice made by SOAC was to operationalize some inquiry, accepting that future discussions and alternative measures might result in other definitions. Thus, these rounds of assessment of general education utilized the following premises:

* General Education is learning which occurs as a result of multiple experiences and courses throughout a student's educational activities, not specific learning that results from a sequence of identified courses. …

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