NAU's Assessment Process
What is Assessment? How do we define assessment at NAU?
Assessment provides answers to questions such as: “What do our graduates know, and what can
they do with that knowledge?” and “What
programmatic changes can we make to continually improve their knowledge and
At NAU, the central purpose of academic program assessment
is to continually strengthen and celebrate the high quality student learning
experience we provide. We do this by
engaging in an ongoing process examining what our students know and are able to
do. We fuel this process with curiosity
and creativity with the goal of continually identifying how we can achieve the
best learning outcomes for our students.
We engage in academic program assessment to measure, in an
ongoing fashion, the extent to which our academic programs achieve their stated
learning outcomes, and to identify changes that will help our programs better
achieve those outcomes.
Through identifying explicit expectations, setting
appropriate standards for learning quality, and systematically gathering,
analyzing and interpreting evidence, we can identify how well our students’
performance matches our expectations and standards. With that knowledge, we can clearly document
and explain our program strengths, and identify areas to improve
performance. At NAU, it is our goal to
use the assessment process to create “a shared academic culture dedicated to
assuring and improving the quality of higher education (AAHE, 1995).”
~Why do we need our academic programs to engage in assessment?
Our primary purpose for conducting assessment at NAU is to continually
improve student learning by asking meaningful assessment questions which guide
us to collect information to make informed decisions about curriculum, learning
design, and program effectiveness.
The NAU Faculty Senate identifies assessment as “a means of
understanding, documenting, and improving the quality of student learning at
NAU.” One of the best ways to ensure
quality is through implementing feedback loops.
A feedback loop allows a system to self-correct and adjust its
operations according to differences it has identified between the actual
outcomes achieved and the desired outcomes it wants to achieve. By monitoring and identifying these
differences, feedback loops allow us to understand, document, and improve our
We have specifically designed the assessment process at NAU to benefit
our students and faculty. For students,
our assessment process clearly identifies the Learning Outcomes they can expect
to achieve by the completion of their Degree Program, and identifies how and
where Learning Outcomes are achieved across the Degree Program.
For faculty, our assessment process
- assists in determining what is and is not
working in the course or program;
- engages them in conversations about
curriculum and learning design with colleagues in their department, and at
times, across the university;
- provides powerful evidence to maintain
and improve programs;
- ensures they can tell their story to
individuals outside their field of expertise; and
- validates their program’s effectiveness.
In addition, engagement in assessment allows us
to maintain our accreditation
through the Higher Learning Commission of the North
Central Association of Colleges and Schools, NAU’s regional accrediting body.
By collecting assessment reports from academic
programs, we are able to document the meaningful and useful nature of our
assessment efforts, identify areas to improve assessment, and provide support
to academic programs in need of that support.
Although this information is primarily used internally to provide
support and service, it also provides a measure of our assessment efforts to
the Higher Learning Commission, our External Accrediting Body.
~Why do the Faculty Senate and University Assessment Committee want academic programs to do some type of annual reporting for assessment?
Our primary goal for having programs engage in the assessment process
on an annual basis (through some form of annual assessment reporting) is to promote
sustained dialogue about teaching and learning.
We desire this dialogue to focus on what it is we want our students to
know and be able to do (learning outcomes), whether and at what level they need
to accomplish our self-selected learning outcomes, and what we can do
differently in our curriculum and learning design to improve the learning
occurring in our courses and programs.
To sustain such a dialogue, we want to ask ourselves questions that
are important to us about our students’ learning, and find answers to our
questions. We want to reflect singly and
in groups about how we can continue to improve the learning design in our
courses and the curriculum design of our programs. As we gather information, more questions about
learning should naturally emerge.
We desire the process of assessment at NAU to be an ongoing process of
growth and change that documents how programs evolve and develop. In the end, we hope that the completion of
the three phases of our Assessment Process result in a story faculty can
document about what they want to better understand concerning their students’
learning, how they gathered information to increase their understanding, and
what they did with the new knowledge they received.
~What values guide the University Assessment Committee's approach to assessment?
- Faculty driven. Faculty members determine the intended
educational outcomes of their academic programs, the questions they desire to
explore about student learning, and design and implement assessments appropriate
to their program’s outcomes, questions, and goals with the purpose of gathering
data that will assist in making decisions about student learning in their
- Meaningful and useful. Assessment at NAU is driven by meaningful
questions developed and selected by faculty and the results of the assessment
are used to (1) improve curriculum or learning design of courses and programs,
(2) prompt future assessment questions, or (3) celebrate the learning of
students through dissemination of results.
- Focused on student learning. Student learning drives the question as
well as the assessment findings and how we use the information we collect. We need to clearly define what learning our
students will accomplish, identify what we want to know about student learning
in our program, and collect information to improve our understanding and guide
our decision making concerning curriculum and learning design.
- Continual (rather than episodic). Assessment isn’t something that we do once
and we’re done. Assessment is a process
to continually refine and clarify what it is we want students to learn,
identify whether and how students have learned, and use our findings to make
curricular or learning design improvements, and celebrate our students’
~Is annual assessment reporting the same as Academic Program Review or Degree Program External Accreditation processes?
Annual Assessment Reporting and Academic Program Review or
Degree Program External Accreditation all focus on continual improvement, but
their purposes and timelines are different.
Annual Assessment Reporting is the annual documentation of
data collection and curricular and learning design improvements made by an
academic program across a single academic year. Its focus is student learning; particularly
whether and how well students are learning.
Academic Program Reviews and Degree Program External
Accreditation Processes occur every 5 to 8 years and are used as a
comprehensive evaluation of the overall effectiveness of an entire academic
unit, including all of its undergraduate and graduate degree programs,
certificates, and emphases. Its focus is
all-encompassing, including student learning, as well as many other indicators,
faculty engagement in research, scholarship, service, library resources,
graduation and retention rates, physical facilities for the program, are just a
A good Academic Program Review will have developed its
Annual Assessment Reporting Questions to collect and examine evidence about
important issues and student learning goals established within the Review. Many departments have successfully
streamlined their department’s energies by using the Annual Assessment
Reporting cycle to prepare for the Academic Program Review. Regardless of how well a department uses the
Annual Assessment Reporting cycle to prepare for their Academic Program Review,
their reports will be provided in the Review to provide evidence of student
learning. These reports provide useful
information about the department’s culture of assessment and continual
improvement at the university.
~Who participates in annual assessment reporting?
Having received feedback from the Academic Chairs Council
and the Provost’s Academic Leadership Team, the University Assessment Committee,
and Faculty Senate passed a revision of the original 2003 policy requesting
departments to engage in some form of annual assessment reporting in October
2012 (click here to view the renewed assessment policy
). The policy states that: All
academic units, programs, or curricular initiatives involved in the content and
delivery of curriculum are required to engage in meaningful assessment of
student learning for each of their undergraduate and graduate programs (major
and emphases, stand-alone certificate, or academic program), regardless of
delivery mode or location of study, and to submit an Annual Assessment Report
(or its equivalent) documenting their assessment and decision making activities
each academic year.
~Our program has external accreditation. Is it necessary for us to submit documentation of our assessment endeavors to the University Assessment Committee?
It is necessary for all degree programs, regardless of
degree program external accreditation, to engage in some form of annual assessment
reporting. In order to reduce any duplication
in assessment reporting, the UAC will accept any assessment reporting format. It is not necessary for you to fill out the “Annual
Assessment Reporting Template” in order to submit a report to the UAC. If your external accreditation agency already
has a report format that you submit to them annually, simply send the UAC the
same report that you send to your accreditors.
you have an annual reporting process for external accreditors, but no
pre-determined reporting format, the template provided may be useful in
reporting to both the UAC and external accrediting agency. Please contact your external accrediting
agency to ensure the reporting process fulfills your external accreditation
annual reporting requirements. If you
have any questions or concerns about how to align your annual external accreditors’
reporting with NAU’s process, please don’t hesitate to contact our Office or
the UAC for assistance.
~What will happen with our annual assessment report once it is provided to the University Assessment Committee?
submission of your annual assessment report to the University Assessment
Committee (UAC), UAC members will review it and provide feedback using the
Annual Assessment Report Feedback Rubric, regardless of whether or not you used
the Annual Assessment Reporting Template. The Report will be archived on the
UAC website (click here to go to the archive which is in revision and will becomplete in Summer 2013). The primary
contact(s) for your report will receive the completed feedback rubric to share with
program faculty. The feedback rubric will be placed in a special password-protected
archive on the University Assessment Committee website, and will only be
accessible through request by the primary contact or department/ program chair. The feedback rubric will also be used to determine whether you are eligible for a Seal of Assessment Excellence of a Letter of Commendation. Click here to read more about our Assessment Awards.
You can follow up on the rubric feedback provided by UAC members by contacting Sue Pieper at OCLDAA to schedule a Café
Meeting. The Café Meeting, offered
jointly by the UAC and the OCLDAA is a new, informal opportunity for faculty to
discuss how to bolster their assessment efforts to answer meaningful questions
about their students’ learning. Additionally, program faculty can contact K.
Laurie Dickson at OCLDAA to ask questions, obtain consultation from the OCLDAA,
or request other assistance.