Academic journal article Journal of Applied Research in the Community College

Critical Factors Affecting the Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes: A Delphi Study of the Opinions of Community College Personnel

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Research in the Community College

Critical Factors Affecting the Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes: A Delphi Study of the Opinions of Community College Personnel

Article excerpt

The purpose of this qualitative study was to identify critically important factors that affect the meaningful assessment of student learning outcomes and study why these factors were critically important. A three-round Delphi process was used to solicit the opinions of individuals who were actively involved in student learning outcomes assessment at community colleges. Twenty-two panelists reviewed and rated lists of statements describing facilitating and thwarting conditions associated with the assessment of student learning outcomes. Six factors emerged as critically important (knowledge/experience of campus leaders, trust, opportunities for dialogue/collaboration, leadership, faculty engagement, and use of assessment results). Four other factors were classified as extremely important (building campus knowledge, having an assessment plan, having communication strategies in place, and having administrators engaged in assessment).

Introduction

In response to the growing public concern about the ability of higher education to meet the needs of American society, regional accrediting bodies have established standards for developing and assessing student learning outcomes (Beno, 2004). For at least the past 15 years, community colleges across the nation have been implementing student learning outcomes but seem to have stalled at the assessment phase. Miles and Wilson (2004) reported that community colleges "universally identified assessment as the most difficult aspect" of implementing student learning outcomes.

This article describes the final phase of a three-phase study to identify the critical factors affecting the meaningful assessment of student learning outcomes and to understand the reasons why these factors are critical. Phase one of this study consisted of a thorough literature review, the development of a draft conceptual model of influential factors and the construction of the first-round questionnaire for a pilot project. The purpose of the pilot project, the second phase of this research, was to allow the researcher to become f amñiar with the research procedures, to evaluate the appropriateness of the method for answering the research questions, to use the results to refine the procedures for this study (the third phase of this research), and to obtain preliminary answers to the two research questions:

* What are the critical factors affecting a meaningful assessment of student learning outcomes in the community college setting?

* What makes these factors critical to a meaningful assessment of student learning outcomes in the community college setting?

Literature Review

The bases for investigating the critical factors associated with meaningful assessment of student learning outcomes rested on several points. First, establishing student learning outcomes and effectively assessing them were viewed as essential elements for improving the quality of education and demonstrating institutional effectiveness (Copa & Ammentorp, 1998; Lopez, 1999; McClenney, 2004; O'Banion, 1999). Second, many community colleges were implementing student learning outcomes; however, it appeared that few of them are effectively assessing these outcomes (Friedlander & Serban, 2004; McClenney, 2001; Wilson, Miles, Baker, «Sc Schoenberger, 2000). Third, there appeared to be a lack of knowledge about assessment among faculty (Serban, 2004; Waite, 2004), a lack of expertise on community college campuses to guide institutions in their assessment activities (Serban, 2004) , and an absence of models for developing and sustaining assessment efforts (Friedlander & Serban, 2004; Serban, 2004). These findings suggest that a community college that knows the factors that affect meaningful assessment would be better able to evaluate and improve their capacity to assess learning outcomes, document student learning, and meet the challenges established by accreditation standards. Without this knowledge, community colleges may be ineffective in establishing processes for the meaningful assessment of student learning outcomes. …

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