Is there anything more important to higher education than student learning and academic quality? When I arrived at RIT five years ago and began working with faculty across the campus, I still remember how refreshing and inspiring it was to discover their commitment to student learning. At that time, we didn’t always speak the same “language,” because the term “assessment” was somewhat puzzling to them as was the phrase “Frozen Four” to me. Our initial conversations focused on defining assessment and having in-depth conversations about improving student learning and how assessment data on student-learning outcomes can enrich and guide programs.
RIT had pockets of assessment going on all over the campus, mostly in programs that enjoyed specialized accreditation. Helping faculty realize they were already practicing some remarkable performance-based and authentic assessment was important in those early conversations. Some programs didn’t always have formally written goals and outcomes mapped to courses and assignments with clear expected achievement benchmarks, but they could easily articulate the program’s vision and share anecdotal course information about assessing student learning.
Semester conversion presented an opportunity to have strategic discussions on the development of meaningful, manageable and sustainable assessment plans that included formally written goals, outcomes, measures and benchmarks. Generally, I find that most faculty discomfort is not about the actual assessment of student learning or using the evidence for ongoing program improvement, but rather the uneasiness with one-size-fits-all and compliance aspects of assessment. Different disciplines and outcomes naturally align to different approaches to inquiry and assessment practices.
In 2006, the Spellings Commission mandated that colleges and universities become more transparent about student success outcomes. The national conversation continues to intensify on the growing need for evidence that colleges and universities are assessing the quality of outcomes. According to the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) 2014 report, while the primary driver of assessment is still accrediting bodies, the majority of institutions are making the necessary shift to include more “internal drivers.” Colleges are taking steps to systematically document that we do assess student-learning outcomes and use data to guide planning, decisions and improvements.
RIT is one of those universities. These are not only priorities at the program and college levels, but also with our Board of Trustees and university leadership. Our program goals and outcomes are aligned to RIT’s Essential Learning Outcomes and we have determined how to “roll up” data in a meaningful way to enable the provost, deans, department chairs and our Education Core Committee to focus on student learning achievement.
Where are we headed in the next five years? By 2020, we hope to distinguish ourselves by steadily getting better at using our results to improve teaching and learning. There will be a cohesive and natural connection between curriculum, instruction and assessment that is second nature for faculty. We will be able to say with unwavering confidence that our graduates achieved the intended student learning outcomes that we committed to when they entered RIT. And most important, our campus community will realize that assessment is a means to an important end and not an end in and of itself.
For more information, go to www.rit.edu/outcomes.
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