National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment |

National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Higher Education Quality: Why Documenting Learning Matters

May 2016

The NILOA policy statement outlines the warrant for multiple, systematic approaches to obtain evidence of authentic student achievement and addresses some well-reasoned concerns that poorly designed assessment efforts can distract from rather than enhance the quality of teaching and learning.  George Kuh, NILOA director, observed that, “Many of the reservations about the value of student learning outcomes assessment are because the findings do not speak to issues that faculty and staff find relevant for their work with students or yield information that they or others can use to be more effective.” 

Recognizing that much remains to be done, a succinct summary is offered of what the assessment movement has achieved thus far, drawing on NILOA’s work in the field over the past decade along with that of other organizations.  The statement concludes with five principles that when adapted appropriately to an institution’s educational purposes and programs can spread and accelerate assessment work worthy of the promises colleges and universities make to their students, policy makers, and the public. 

 

Higher Education Quality: Why Documenting Learning Matters

 

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Please cite as: National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. (2016, May). Higher education quality: Why documenting learning matters. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, Author.

 

Endorsements:

More than most educators realize, the assessment movement in higher education now is poised to drive a sea change in what actually counts as meaningful evidence in student learning assessment.  For more than a century, assessment has been equated with “tests” – and specifically with tests that are narrowly framed and disconnected by design from the actual curriculum faculty plan and students experience.  Today, as the NILOA paper emphasizes, with faculty at the helm, assessment leaders are placing students’ authentic work – assessed with validated “rubrics” – at the center of the assessment equation.  The result is what NILOA calls “actionable evidence,” that is, insights that are meaningful to faculty about students’ strengths and areas of needed improvement. 

Carol Geary Schneider, President, Association of American Colleges and Universities

 

For decades, American society and American employers have relied upon a college degree as a meaningful hallmark of a person who could function effectively and productively.  But we have never asked whether and what students learned on their ways to their degrees.  In recent years, as the complexity of our global society and its jobs have increased, employers have begun to ask for more context, more texture, and more demonstration of learning. In other words, they want to know what the degree really means and what it signifies. 

Systematic assessment of authentic student work to determine whether students meet the expectations of colleges, employers, and of the community in which they live provides a powerful answer to those questions.  If ever college meant anything, it was the faculty who made it so.  That means the rigorous and valid assessments of what students can demonstrate they know is based on faculty judgement of a student’s own work. Fortunately – as best exemplified by the work of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, the carefully developed VALUE rubrics of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the State Higher Education Executive Officers’ Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Learning Outcomes Assessment (MSC) project – faculty, colleges, and states are embracing this challenge thoughtfully, carefully, and (increasingly) rapidly.  The question of what students know is being answered with this new paradigm of assessment  using multiple measures of student  learning – indirect, direct, and embedded – without a single mandated test.

George Pernsteiner, President, State Higher Education Executive Offiers


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NILOA distills substantial amounts of data, information and findings that have emerged from its work over the previous decade into practical recommendations that can work for any institution that is serious about improving student learning. NILOA’s five principles for effective learning assessment should be central to every campus’ efforts to better understand what and how students are learning and subsequently using that information to further strengthen student and institutional outcomes.

Brian K. Bridges, Vice President, Research & Member Engagement, United Negro College Fund


NILOA’s five principles are clear, practical, useful guidelines for all institutions concerned with documenting their students’ learning—as all institutions should be.  Regarding the fifth principle, “Focus on improvement and compliance will take care of itself,” this accreditor says “Amen”!

Mary Ellen Petrisko, President, WASC Senior College and University Commission


 

Many of the reservations about the value of student learning outcomes assessment are because the findings do not speak to issues that faculty and staff find relevant for their work with students or yield information that they or others can use to be more effective.

 

George Kuh, Director, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment