Principles for Assessment
The University of Illinois is committed to preparing students to skillfully face challenges and opportunities through their lives, by transforming talented individuals into well-rounded citizens with strong academic backgrounds, employability in their respective fields, and the core life skills necessary for success.
The following are adaptations of the Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning provided by the American Association of Higher Education, and can be accessed here. In some cases, the language is used verbatim, but has been modified to reflect the priorities of the University of Illinois.
Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, dynamic, contextual, and experiential. Learning is a complex process, including what students know and what they can do with what they know, and involves all of the knowledge and skills that promote success in and out of the classroom. Proper assessment accounts for outcomes as well as experiences that lead to those outcomes. Effective assessment accounts for the experiences of learners from a diversity of social, geographic, demographic, and economic contexts, and defines learning as both an outcome and a skill worth enacting. To aim for a more complete and accurate picture of learning, assessment should reflect a diverse array of methods that accounts for differences and highlights change over time.
Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes. Assessment is a goal-oriented process. It entails comparing educational performance with educational purposes and expectations – these derived from the institution’s mission, from faculty intentions in program and course design, and from knowledge of student goals. Assessment as a process pushes a campus toward clarity about where to aim and what standards to apply; assessment also prompts attention to where and how program goals will be taught and learned. Clear, shared, implementable goals are the cornerstone for assessment that is focused and useful.
Assessment works best when it is ongoing, not episodic. Though isolated, “one-shot” assessment can be better than none, continuous improvement is best fostered when assessment entails a linked series of collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and reflecting on the data over time. Ongoing assessment activities can take many forms, such as tracking the progress of individual students or specific cohorts, sampling students in a certain course or at a certain point in their academic progress, or automating the assessment process to measure and report outcomes on a regular basis. Additionally, assessment is best practiced when the process is regularly evaluated and refined in light of changing goals, emerging methods, and new questions that surface from the results.
Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved. Student learning is a campus-wide responsibility, and assessment is a principal way of enacting that responsibility. Assessment efforts may start in one unit, but the aim over time is to involve a variety of stakeholders from across the educational community. Faculty play an especially important role as do student-affairs educators, librarians, administrators, and students. Individuals from beyond the campus (alumni/ae, trustees, employers) whose experience can enrich the sense of appropriate aims and standards for learning may also play a part in assessment. In other words, assessment and improvement are responsibilities shared by those members of the entire educational community who have a stake in student learning.
Assessment makes a difference when it addresses top-priority issues to illuminate outcomes of highest importance to stakeholders. While assessment understands the innate value of information and improvement, its use is only exemplified when information is connected to the questions of top importance to those with stake in its improvement. Assessment must, therefore, produce evidence that is credible, informative, and applicable to decisions that need to be made in policy and/or practice. Rather than just analyzing data and returning “results,” those engaged in assessment should take into account how data and information will be used for continuous improvement.
Assessment leads to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change. Assessment’s greatest contribution occurs when the quality of teaching and learning are visibly valued and improved. Realistically, assessment is an informative piece of the larger puzzle for improving educational performance, where the push for improvement is a visible and primary goal of leadership, and issues of quality are central to the institution’s planning, budgeting, and personnel decisions. Assessment can be most effective when undertaken in an environment that is receptive, supportive, and enabling.
Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public. There is compelling public stake in education. As educators, we have a responsibility to the public and stakeholders that support or depend on us to provide information about the ways in which our students meet goals and expectations. This responsibility goes beyond simple reporting of data; stakeholders must be informed of critical needs, and how we are working to improve the quality of education, so that we can all actively engage in the process of assessment and continuous improvement. Those to whom educators are accountable have a corresponding obligation to support such attempts at improvement.
- The assessment of student learning begins with educational values. Assessment is not an end in itself but a vehicle for educational improvement. Its effective practice, then, begins with identifying universal or university-wide values of student learning. These values should drive not only what we choose to assess but also how we do so. The best assessment accommodates and prioritizes overarching educational values as both the end and the means.