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 skills?

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).”

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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 programs.

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.

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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.

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What values guide the University Assessment Committee's approach to assessment?

Assessment is:

  1. 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 degree program.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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’ successes.

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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 few. 

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.

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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.

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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.  If 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.  

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What will happen with our annual assessment report once it is provided to the University Assessment Committee?

Following 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.