This article describes a model for survey development used by the Department of Physical Therapy at Saint Louis University to assess the extent to which the program prepares students for a career as physical therapists. From a review of departmental documents including mission and philosophy statements and curriculum goals, eight performance outcomes (e.g., competence as a general practitioner, leadership, ethics, attitude for service, etc.) and two program characteristics (curricuum and program atmosphere) were determined. External documents including accreditation criteria for graduate performance were also reviewed and found to he consistent with the identified characteristics. Based on these findings, items for three surveys were developed and assessed. A 1-year alumni survey solicited feedback on the graduates' perceptions of their educational preparedness for clinical practice. The graduates' employers then were surveyed for an assessment of the graduates' job performance. A 3-year alumni survey followed up to reassess the graduates' perceptions of their educational preparedness and to track the alumni's activities since graduation. Other programs in physical therapy and other health care disciplines can use this model to develop valid survey instruments to assess their program's effectiveness. J Allied Health. 2003; 32:179-184.
PRESSURE ON EDUCATIONAL institutions to show the effectiveness of their programs has increased since the 1990s. State legislators, parents, and students want assurances that students will obtain the education promised.1 Accreditation agencies also demand that institutions and programs implement outcome assessments to ensure that students have opportunities to achieve the educational goals and become competent in their chosen field.2 The evaluative criteria that must be met for accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Programs for Physical Therapy Education include program assessment, which encompasses assessment of student learning outcomes.3
Methods for conducting outcome assessments range from the use of commercially available achievement and personality tests to instruments that are institutional specific.4 Much of the literature on student outcome assessment focuses on the development of a university-wide program of assessment4-6 When alumni are surveyed, the outcomes of interest frequently are related to overall satisfaction with the college experience and successful job placement.4,6 When Northeast Missouri State University changed its mission from one of primarily preparing teachers to being a small multipurpose university, they wanted to determine how successful they were in graduating individuals who were nationally competitive in many diverse fields. Follow-up graduate surveys were used to determine the type of job placements the graduates obtained.5 When information at the individual program level is desired, one suggestion is to put short inserts into the university or college survey.6 We believe that student outcome assessment at the program level requires the same thought and effort that is recommended for university-wide or college-wide assessment programs.
Student outcomes assessment should include several components, occur at multiple points, and include an appraisal of the educational program from different points of view.7 A review of the curriculum can include regular assessment of curriculum prerequisites, the content and sequence of courses, and monitoring of student learning opportunities outside the program. Assessment of student academic progress and professional development should occur at designated times in the program. For educational programs preparing students for health professions, assessments of practicum or clinical experiences provide opportunities to determine the student's readiness for work in the profession. Students and clinical instructors have different points of view, and an analysis of student clinical performance ratings and clinical instructor perceptions of the program based on student performance during clinical rotations can provide useful information. …