Assessment: An Overview
John Rosenbaum Ithaca College
The purpose of this chapter is to provide a broad context for discussions about approaches to outcomes assessment. It begins with a brief history of assessment movements in higher education since the early 1900s. Next the actors involved in five forums are examined: federal agencies, accrediting bodies, national and regional organizations, the states, and institutions. The ongoing debate between assessment's advocates, detractors, worriers, skeptics, and critics is summarized. Three alternative approaches to penciland-paper testing are offered: authentic, research, and quality assessment. The chapter concludes with five lessons learned about successful outcomes assessments: (a) begin by clarifying the goals and values of education, (b) analyze practices as well as performances, (c) use multiple approaches, (d) involve everyone, especially faculty, and (e) foster communication.
What is outcomes assessment? Is it the evaluation of student learning we do every day as part of our teaching? Is it accountability for resources that we receive? Is it program review? Self-study? Accreditation? At different times, in different places, for different reasons, outcomes assessment has been all those things and more (see Banta, 1988, 1993b; Johnson, Prus, Anderson, & El-Khawas, 1991).
When the Presidential Task Force on Student Learning and Development at Kean College of New Jersey began exploring the field in the mid-1980s, it concluded that the term outcomes assessment has had no single, universally accepted definition (presidential Task Force on Student Learning and Development, 1986, p. 12). The same year, administrators and faculty members at Harvard University began setting up an assessment program and concluded that outcomes assessment asks three questions: "What do students know now? How much do they gain when they're here? And how