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What Must the Assessment Plan Include?

What Must the Assessment Plan Include?

Every assessment plan should include three sets of statements:

1. a statement of the department's or program's purpose,
2. a series of intended student outcomes or objectives for the program, and
3. a series of assessment procedures and criteria by which the level of achievement in relation to the outcomes/objectives will be demonstrated.

The assessment plans described here focus on program performance in relation to what a program expects or intends its students to know, be able to do, be aware of, and so forth. The three sets of statements should be understood as directly connected, each part of the assessment plan being stated and read in relation to the part preceding it. Thus a department's or program's statement of purpose--insofar as it is related to student learning--is made concrete and specific in its objectives; the objectives are, in turn, directly addressed by the procedures and criteria designed to demonstrate student achievement of those objectives. For a visual representation of the connections among the parts of a submitted plan, see the plan for the BS in Computer Science (this document is in Adobe PD format (PDF); for information on accessing PDF documents, read Viewing Plans in Adobe PD Format (PDF)). The table that follows comprises notes on each of the three parts in our standard assessment plan. Every program, of course, must craft for those parts a content that fits its own particular nature, needs, intentions, and capabilities. For examples of plans developed by programs on campus, see the on-line archive Assessment Plan Library; such examples can be useful, but they should never be taken as infallible models or guides: a program's assessment plan is--and should be--its own.
Statement of Departmental/Program Purpose
Here the department or program states its overall goals within its larger contexts--its college and the University--though the assessment plan itself usually includes only the departmental or program purpose statement. Developing this part of the assessment plan offers an opportunity for departments and programs to reaffirm their specific roles within the university's more generally stated purposes. For UCA's Strategic Thinking Initiative and its development of a newly approved statement of mission and principles, see the STI page and its links.
Many departments find it useful to begin, at least, with the departmental statement of purpose published in the University Bulletin. Most departments write a single statement of purpose for all their programs, the programs themselves being distinguished by the specific list of intended outcomes or objectives. Some departments, however, bring together quite disparate programs, in which case a particular program's goal or purpose may be stated here in lieu of an overall departmental statement.
Intended Outcomes/Objectives
Here the plan specifies what the program's graduates will know, be able to do, and so forth. The program should attempt to summarize, in three to five clear statements, what it wants its students to achieve by their participation in the program.
Too many outcomes or objectives will prove unmanageable, especially for the assessing unit but also for its audience (the larger, non-specialist academic community and the various agencies--most immediately the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools--that will review the plans and their results). The need to keep the outcome statements to a manageable number is particularly obvious when one remembers that each of the outcomes/objectives must be specifically assessed and that the HLC and others working with assessment recommend that, where possible, multiple measures be developed for each objective.
The program will, for these reasons, want to be concise, clear, and specific, without burdening the non-specialist audience of the plan with unnecessary detail.
Assessment Procedures and Criteria
In general, this part of the plan shows how the program will demonstrate some level of achievement of the outcomes projected under Intended Outcomes/Objectives. A program will want to begin by identifying the "points of assessment" already in the program and then to consider whether more need to be added.
The program will usually want to specify more than one way to demonstrate achievement in relation to each intended outcome ("multiple measures"), though conceivably some outcomes will be stated in such a way that they are adequately demonstrated by only one measure. A program may have a series of complex assessment measures already in place whereby it can demonstrate what its students have achieved: in such a case, a single statement, describing in detail a comprehensive measure, is appropriate. (See, for example, the archived assessment plans developed by the Department of Art.)
A program should always ask itself whether the stated procedures and their associated criteria actually, adequately, and specifically measure or demonstrate what the program has projected as an outcome.
A common problem noted in early assessment plan drafts is a failure to state a standard of success. That is, many plans begin by stating a procedure but fail to follow through by specifying criteria whereby achievement may be judged. Some examples of criteria:
• One standard of success might be a percentage of students projected to achieve some specified level of success: for example, "85% of graduating majors will pass the national licensure examination in _____ on their first attempt."
• Another common standard of success is an average outcome from a particular assessment procedure, sometimes with comparisons built in to the criterion: "Senior majors will take the MFAT in _____ during the semester before their graduation and will score at or above the national 50th percentile."
• Another standard, but one to be used with extreme caution, is GPA in a particular part of the required curriculum. For example, if a stated objective was the quite general "Students will demonstrate understanding of the basic science coursework," one measure of success might be stated this way: "Students will earn a ___ or better in behavioral, biological, and physical sciences courses." Overall GPA within the major program is generally not a useful assessment criterion: it is simply not specific enough in the information it reveals about student achievement. For more on the use of GPA or grades, see this office's working document on "The Use of GPA in Assessment."
In some cases, a program may be unable to establish specific criteria before implementing an assessment plan. In such cases, the assessment plan should indicate when and how the program will establish standards for success. For example, a new program's assessment plan might indicate, "For all assessments, the first two review cycles will be used to establish baseline criteria for success in achieving these objectives."
If appropriate assessment procedures and criteria are already in place, they should, of course, be used: one need not reinvent the wheel if the wheel is already there. Sometimes the current procedures and criteria may need repackaging: the assessment needs of special program accreditation, for instance--the College of Business Administration's accreditation by the AACSB, say, or the music department's accreditation with the NASM--may be considerably different from the needs of the campus assessment program generally, at least in form. In such cases, a subset of the assessment for professional program accreditation often provides most--possibly all--of the program's campus assessment plan. If in doubt, consult with us.
Again, do not hesitate to call on the Office of Academic Planning and Assessment for help in developing an assessment plan.

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