FAQ

Why is Syracuse University engaging in assessment?
What is the difference between assessment and evaluation?
What are the benefits of assessment?
Why should I engage in assessment?
How will assessment information be used?
Will assessment results be used for individual faculty/staff evaluation?
Is assessment about finding flaws in the work of the departments/units?
When should we assess?
What is the assessment progress report?
How should student learning outcomes be assessed in an academic program?
When assessing student learning outcomes, why aren’t course grades enough?
Are course evaluations useful for student learning outcomes assessment?
Do we need student consent for assessing their work as part of student learning outcomes assessment?
What resources does Syracuse University have for supporting assessment?
Can the Assessment Working Team do program assessment for us?
Does assessment infringe on faculty’s academic freedom?
Why all of this focus and effort on assessment?
What is the role of the newly created Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment (IEA) office in developing and making changes to academic program curriculum?
What are the roles and responsibilities of faculty, staff, administrators, and students for assessment?
Does everything have to be quantified?
Is one assessment approach better than another?
There seem to be several related processes occurring on campus. What are the differences between them?
Do we have to use rubrics to assess student learning?


Why is Syracuse University engaging in assessment?

Assessment is a strategic process that is part of our continual improvement. Assessment allows for evidence-based decisions about curriculum and pedagogy, programs and services, and student support. In addition, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education considers ongoing assessment a cornerstone of our accreditation.

As part of the institution-wide assessment effort, all academic programs, co-curricular programs, and functional areas will develop and implement assessment and action plans. Additionally, a curriculum map, outlining how student learning outcomes are addressed throughout an academic program’s curriculum, will be created. A proposed academic program will be required to prepare an assessment and action plans before it will be considered for approval.


What is the difference between assessment and evaluation?

Assessment and evaluation use similar methods but are used for different purposes. Evaluation is a systematic process for determining “merit, worth, value or significance” (American Evaluation Association, 2014). Assessment processes are designed specifically to improve programs and services. Both terms are relevant with regard to the culture of assessment at Syracuse University. Assessment processes and outcomes at Syracuse University are intended as a structure for planning and developing improvement on a continued and incremental basis.


What are the benefits of assessment?

Assessment provides information so that academic departments, co-curricular programs, and functional areas can make informed decisions regarding changes. Assessment facilitates discussion between faculty and staff, within and across disciplines, about goals, collecting and sharing detailed feedback with students, and establishing a clear and effective bigger picture for individual programs and services. Assessment provides results that strengthen arguments for increased funding and resources for departments, programs, and units producing valued outcomes. Assessment informs professional development for faculty and staff, as well as changes to policies, resources, and institutional development.

For more information, please refer to:

  • Suskie, L. A. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
  • Walvoord, B. E. (2010). Assessment clear and simple: A practical guide for institutions, departments, and general education (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass


Why should I engage in assessment?

Assessment information provides means for faculty and staff to become more reflective in their practice, and ultimately to improve. The process of assessment provides a structure for setting goals and outcomes/objectives, monitoring progress, and making improvements to programs and services. Each faculty and staff member plays a vital role in contributing to the success of the process.


How will assessment information be used?

Assessment information will be gathered and used by faculty and staff to identify action areas and guide decision-making. Assessment is a reflective process. Results are intended to provide feedback for continuous improvement of academic programs, co-curricular programs, and functional areas. Results will not be used to evaluate individual students, faculty, or staff.


Will assessment results be used for individual faculty/staff evaluation?

Assessment of student learning outcomes, programs, and/or services is in no way tied to faculty/staff performance evaluation. Assessment should not be used as an evaluation of an individual faculty or staff member.


Is assessment about finding flaws in the work of departments/units?

No. Assessment is about determining what is working and not working. If something is not working well or satisfactory in the academic program, co-curricular program, or functional area and it is evidenced in the assessment results, it means that actions should be taken to ensure successful student learning or increased performance in the future.


When should we assess?

To effectively reflect on and, when appropriate, take actions to enhance the quality of programs and services, it is essential that assessment be ongoing. Some programs/units plan to assess all of their outcomes/objectives each year, while others will assess one or two outcomes each year over a four-year cycle. It is important to sustain a well-designed and manageable assessment plan and process to inform decision-making on an ongoing basis.


What is the assessment progress report?

Annually, an assessment progress report is requested for each academic program, co-curricular program, and functional area. The progress report:

  • documents assessment efforts for most recent academic year (or fiscal year for functional areas)
  • identifies outcomes/objectives that will be assessed in the upcoming year
  • provides an opportunity to identify assessment topics with which your unit/program would like assistance

The current progress reporting windows are as follows:


How should student leaning outcomes be assessed in an academic program?

Direct measures should be the primary means of demonstrating that student learning outcomes have been achieved. Direct assessment of student outcomes can be examined using embedded course assignments, capstone projects, portfolios, field experiences, performances, theses, dissertations, etc. If an academic program uses published exams, such as exams for licensure or certification, as a requirement for completion of the program, the exam results can be used as a direct measure.

Indirect measures operate best as a support to the information gathered through direct measures. Alone, they are not sufficient to demonstrate the achievement of student learning outcomes. Indirect information is often gathered through surveys, interviews, and focus groups. It reflects the opinions and perceptions about a student learning outcome. Indirect measures can also include course grades and grade distributions, retention and graduation rates, and placement rates.


When assessing student learning outcomes, why aren’t course grades enough?

A course grade may include aspects that are not necessarily related to student learning in the course, such as attendance. While attendance may impact student learning, it is not directly related to what the student learned. Additionally, a course grade often reflects progress toward many learning outcomes and is a compilation of the student progress toward all of these outcomes. Course grades can be useful as an indirect measure of student learning if they are primarily based on student work related to the learning outcome, such as exams, papers, and presentations.


Are course evaluations useful for student learning outcomes assessment?

Yes and no. Responses to course evaluations can be used as an indirect measure (i.e., in support of the direct measures of student work) if students are asked to rate their knowledge and skills and reflect on what they have learned in the course. Student perceptions can be an important contribution to the assessment process.


Do we need student consent for assessing their work as part of student learning outcomes assessment?

No. Assessment of student learning outcomes is conducted at the program level.


What resources does Syracuse University have for supporting assessment?

The Assessment Working Team in the Associate Provost Office for Academic Programs is available for consultation and can work with departments and units to develop and implement assessment and action plans. Check the Contact Us section of the website and choose the most way for you to get support. Moreover, this website includes internal and external resources on assessment and institutional effectiveness.


Can the Assessment Working Team do assessment for us?

No, the role of the Assessment Working Team is to provide support to the academic programs, departments, and units through workshopsconsultations, useful resources. It is in the interest of each academic program, department, or unit to conduct their own assessment and use the results as a way to improve student learning, processes, or services.


Does assessment infringe on faculty’s academic freedom?

Syracuse University fully supports academic freedom as outlined in the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure:

The purpose of this statement is to promote public understanding and support of academic freedom and tenure and agreement upon procedures to ensure them in colleges and universities. Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.

Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning. It carries with it duties correlative with rights.

As noted by AAUP, assessment is a core faculty responsibility:

Assessment of student learning and reform of teaching and academic programs are core academic activities. As such, the AAUP sees them as being the primary responsibility of faculty—individually and collectively. In the classroom, a core element of academic freedom is the autonomy of the individual faculty member to determine what and how to teach. At the same time, the AAUP emphasizes the collective responsibility of the faculty as a whole for academic programs, suggesting that an academic department, for instance, can adopt pedagogical or curricular standards that colleagues teaching the course(s) need to adopt. …


Why all this focus and effort on assessment?

Syracuse University has always assessed, reflected on our programs and services, and made changes when necessary. We, however, have not documented our efforts to the degree to which is now required both for internal reporting and external verification. Documentation used in the past both for Middle States accreditation and specialized accreditation is no longer sufficient due to increased demands for accountability by the public, by both state and federal governments and by extension regional and specialized accreditation.

Recent specialized accreditation reviews of some of our programs resulted in findings of non- compliance focused on insufficient documentation of student learning outcomes assessment. Additionally, MIddle States adopted new standards that include assessment in each standard and adopted a new reporting cycle that includes annual institutional updates. Other colleges and universities in the central New York region ran into difficulty in their most recent Middle States self-studies regarding institutional effectiveness (strategic planning, program review, documentation) and student learning outcomes assessment resulting in Middle States actions of further progress reporting and ongoing monitoring of the institutions for compliance.


What is the role of the newly created Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment (IEA) office in developing and making changes to academic program curriculum?

IEA does not propose, request, or make any changes to program curriculum, sequencing, structure, or teaching techniques. IEA does not conduct assessments of programs and units. The purpose of IEA is to support faculty and staff in the systematic assessment of our programs and services through consultations, workshops, documentation tols, and other useful resources. IEA conducts one assessment per year – the assessment of the office itself. As noted above, faculty have the core responsibility for “identifying student learning outcomes, conducting those assessments, and revising curriculum accordingly.”


What are the roles and responsibilities of faculty, staff, administrators, and students for assessment?

Deans

• Communicate the value of assessment to the school/college.
• Identify, establish, and sustain the school/college’s commitment to assessment.

• Incorporate student learning, student needs, and operational goals into a school/college assessment plan.
• Establish a school/college wide committee responsible for assessment (can be the curriculum committee).

• Act on assessment results.

Faculty/Staff

• Participate in and support assessment activities such as develop student learning outcomes, develop rubrics, and collect student work.

•Participate in discussions of the results and what those results mean to the program/unit.
• When requested, faculty provide course level measures and/or data.

• Communicate program learning outcomes and course objectives to students.
• Facilitate program and institutional level assessment planning, implementation, reflection, and data informed decision- making.

• Act on assessment results.

Department Chairs & Program Directors

• Lead the department assessment efforts.
• Collaborate with faculty and administrators to document learning outcomes assessment.
• Align courses and learning outcomes with program and institutional goals.
• Systematically collect, assess, and reflect on assessment results.
• Act on assessment results.

Students

• Engage in assessment-related activities (e.g., surveys, course evaluations, focus groups) to the best of their ability.
• Provide feedback to faculty and staff on assessment activities.

• Serve on assessment committees.

University Assessment & Accreditation Committee (UAAC) School/College Representative
• Advise the UAAC on assessment and accreditation activities in the school/college.
• Communicate information to academic programs and school/college leaders to guide assessment activities used to support and improve teaching/learning.

• Identify strengths and limitations of current assessment practices in the school/college.

Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment
• Coordinate university wide assessment efforts across academic, co-curricular, and functional areas.
• Provide ongoing support and professional development for
faculty and staff to sustain continuous reflection.
• Sustain a systematic assessment and reporting system.
• Support external accreditation processes.


Does everything have to be quantified?

No. The IEA staff works with each academic program to identify what works best for each program and faculty. For some departments, numbers and graphics are how they choose to examine their programs. For other departments, a qualitative approach resulting in narratives works better.

Direct measures should be the primary means of demonstrating that student learning outcomes have been achieved. Direct assessment of student outcomes can be examined using embedded course assignments, capstone projects, portfolios, field experiences, performances, theses, dissertations, etc. If an academic program uses published exams, such as exams for licensure or certification, as a requirement for completion of the program, the exam results can be used as a direct measure.

Indirect measures operate best as a support to the information gathered through direct measures. Alone, they are not sufficient to demonstrate the achievement of student learning outcomes. Indirect information is often gathered through surveys, interviews, and focus groups. It reflects the opinions and perceptions about a student learning outcome. Indirect measures can also include course grades and grade distributions, retention and graduation rates, and placement rates.


Is one assessment approach better than another?
No. The process of continuous reflection is the focus of assessment. Faculty have a choice on how to report results and findings.


There seem to be several related processes occurring on campus. What are the differences between them?

Student Learning Outcomes Assessment

Assessment of student learning outcomes is an ongoing reflective process conducted by and for the faculty. Assessment asks (1) What skills, knowledge, attitudes or dispositions do we want our students to acquire by the end of their program of study? and (2) What is our evidence that students have acquired those skills, knowledge, attitudes or dispositions? As noted above the evidence can take many forms and is used for the program faculty to make a professional judgement. Programs are encouraged to assess all outcomes within a four-year timeframe.

 

University-Level and Unit-Level Strategic Planning

A systematic 3-5 year plan aligning with the the academic strategic plan which examines the institution’s environment and operating context to identify goals, objectives and strategies (actions) to guide decision making and resource allocation. The strategic plan details how the institution fulfills its mission and works toward achieving its vision. The strategic plan’s operationalization is guided by an implementation and monitoring plan. The institution’s assessment results and program review contribute information to the strategic plan’s implementation. Schools and colleges are also undertaking strategic planning.

 

 

Program Review

The purpose of program review is to craft and maintain a set of high-quality academic programs that support our educational objectives for students while making effective use of our institutional resources. If we do this well, we will maintain high-quality programs that are consistent with our mission, sought by students, and sustainable. Academic programs are reviewed for their quality, demand, cost- effectiveness, and centrality to mission. Judgments on these criteria occur through a faculty-centric process where disciplinary and program experts evaluate the available information about a program. The criteria are considered holistically: For example, a small, high quality program that is central to a unit’s history and identity would not be judged adversely because it is small. Program review occurs on a four-year cycle. To simplify data collection, all of the programs in a department may be reviewed in the same year, but program review is not departmental review.

 

University-Level and Specialized Accreditation

Syracuse University, as well as some of our school/college and individual programs and units, are accredited. A full listing is posted on the IEA website.

Syracuse University is accredited by the Middle State Commission on Higher Education. Middle States “…accreditation is an expression of confidence in an institution’s mission and goals, its performance, and its resources. An institution is accredited when the educational community has verified that its goals are achieved through self-regulation and peer review. The extent to which each educational institution accepts and fulfills the responsibilities inherent in the process of accreditation is a measure of its commitment to striving for and achieving excellence in its endeavors.” The University is currently completing its self-study and will host a peer review site visit team in March 2018.

 

 


Do we have to use rubrics to assess student learning?

No, there are several ways to assess student learning. Rubrics are only one tool faculty can utilize to analyze student assignments. Faculty can also utilize checklists, observation/holistic guides, faculty notes, or a department-wide evaluation tool. Many faculty find that rubrics simplify and streamline their assessment processes. Having a system is usually quite helpful, but faculty choose the structure and methods of the system.