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The New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability ( recently released its report, Committing to Quality: Guidelines for Assessment and Accountability in Higher Education. The report suggests that higher education institutions can use the guidelines to help them answer the question, “Are our students Learning?” and contends this is the fundamental question underlying the work these institutions do to prepare students for success.
The guidelines in and of themselves are not really anything new to those of us involved in student learning outcomes assessment: 1. Set Ambitious Goals, 2. Gather Evidence of Student Learning, 3. Use Evidence to Improve Student Learning, and 4. Report Evidence and Results. Indeed, these guidelines form the foundation of most campus-level assessment activities.
What caught my attention in the report was the following statement included in the description of Guideline #2.
Evidence of how well students are achieving learning outcomes (i.e., “What is good enough?”) against externally informed or benchmarked assessments or against similar colleges and universities, where appropriate and possible, provides useful comparisons. At the same time, it is critical to keep in mind that the objective of comparison is not ranking but improvement.
This seems to be one of the biggest hurdles we face when trying to evaluate the results of assessment on our campuses. I imagine most of us would agree that being able to benchmark our assessment results with those of a group of peer institutions would be the ideal. With the exception of national normative data available to those institutions utilizing one of the several standardized tests such as the CLA, there seems to be very little comparative data available to achieve this benchmarking.
Many institutions now utilize various assessment management systems and/or learning management systems with assessment functions included. I wonder if consortia comprised of institutions similar in role and mission and other key characteristics would be willing to engage in assessment data sharing for purposes of benchmarking their assessment results. And I wonder if the process could be facilitated by the use of common learning and/or assessment management systems. Such organizations could provide an enhanced service to their client institutions by serving as a third-party to collect, aggregate, and then return assessment data to “member” organizations. By using the services of an impartial third-party, individual student data and identity of individual institutions could be kept confidential and thus help to ensure the data are not used for ranking institutions as suggested by the New Leadership Alliance in their report.
Given the increasing microscope post-secondary institutions are being viewed under, such an initiative could prove to be a giant leap in terms of demonstrating accountability and transparency to concerned citizens and other stakeholders. Perhaps more importantly, the availability of this type of benchmarking data would surely be vital to quality improvement processes among our colleges and universities with our students being the primary beneficiaries of such efforts.
Kimberly Thompson
Academic Trainer & Consultant - Assessment & Analytics
Pearson eCollege

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