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Three Levels for General Education Assessment

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Campuses typically use one or more of three basic approaches to assessing the general education program, focusing at the course, program, or institutional level


The posting below looks at specific examples of general education assessment, course, program, and institutional. It is from Chapter 4, The Assessment Plan in, Assessing General Education Programs, by Mary J. Allen professor emeritus of psychology, California State University-Bakersfield and Former Director of the California State University Institute for Teaching and Learning. Anker Publishing Company, Inc. Bolton, Massachusetts. Copyright ? 2006 by Anker Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved. ISBN 1-882982-95-9


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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Campuses typically use one or more of three basic approaches to assessing the general education program. They focus on assessment at the course, program, or institutional level. Course-level assessment ascertains how well students have mastered learned outcomes associated with specific general education courses. Faculty who staff these courses routinely assess course outcomes, refine their courses based on results, and report findings and changes to an oversight committee. Assuming course outcomes are well aligned with program outcomes, results can be generalized to the program, as a whole.

Program-level assessment embeds assessment within general education courses, and results are summarized for the program, as a whole. For example, Noel (2001) and colleagues examined two arts and humanities learned outcomes by developing a rubric and using it to assess student products from a sample of upper-division arts and humanities courses. The focus was on the program, not each individual course.

Institutional-level assessments usually embeds assessment in advanced courses in the majors, allowing the campus to see how well learning in the general education program generalizes to learning throughout the institution. For example, students at Truman State University (2004) complete a general education portfolio in senior-level capstone courses in the major, and the portfolios are assessed to see how well students have mastered general education outcomes. This approach includes a check that students who have transferred from other institutions have developed the marks of a Truman State graduate.

Course-Level Assessment Example: San Jos? State University

San Jos? State University has a well-developed system for assessing the general education program at the course level, and this is a major undertaking. This campus has more than 200 general education courses that meet 18 general education requirements, and more than 500 general education course sections are scheduled each semester. Faculty who teach sections of the same general education course collaborate to assess student mastery of general education outcomes within their courses. In addition, they document other course certification requirements, such as using active learning techniques and helping students develop communication and critical thinking skills (Anagnos, Dorosz, & Wheeler, 2002). An example of their course certification requirements for the Self, Society, & Equality in the U.S. requirement is provided in Chapter 3. Designated course coordinators submit a "Coordinator Summary" that:

* Summarizes the number of course sections that were offered and assessed * Responds to any concerns expressed during the course certification review * Lists the number of students who took the course and the number of students who achieved each learning outcome * Briefly summarizes the kinds of activities that help students develop each outcome * Highlights results that demonstrate that students have exceeded expectations * Highlights results that demonstrate that students have not met expectations * Describes course modifications based on assessment findings * Summarizes what has been learned about effective ways to meet additional course requirements (e.g. providing effective feedback to develop writing skills) * Describes the course coordination process, including faculty discussion of assessment findings * Describes changes in the assessment plan for subsequent offerings of the course

A Coordinator Summary for the Self, Society, & Equality in the U.S. requirement is available online (David, 2001). This assessment approach results in continuing refinement of each general education course as well as ongoing collaboration among faculty who teach it.

Program-Level Assessment Example: California State Polytechnic University-Pomona

California State Polytechnic University-Pomona's (2003) Interdisciplinary General Education (IGE) Program is an impressive example of program-level assessment. Pomona students have the option of participating in the IGE Program to meet most of their lower division humanities and social sciences general education requirements. Students complete the innovative program in cohorts, taking one course each quarter starting in their freshman year; the eighth and last course is a capstone course in which students create integrative projects that are expressed in a 15-page paper and through an alternative medium, such as a poster or work of art. About six to eight sections of each required course are offered each quarter, and about 80-100 students complete the program each year.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty, as well as adjunct faculty, offer IGE courses, and many have participated in the program for years. Around 12 faculty offer IGE courses each year, and they share responsibility for assessing the program. IGE faculty, including adjunct faculty, meet regularly to discuss the program and its assessment; each quarter the program hosts a "torch passing" in which faculty who have just taught the students "pass" them into the hands of the next instructors by sharing what they have done and what they have learned through the ongoing assessment program.

Alignment of the IGE program is planned through an alignment matrix and is made explicit during the torch passing. In addition, many of the courses are taught, and involved faculty carefully orchestrate their courses to meet program and course outcomes. Throughout the year faculty meet to discuss how their courses help students build the skills necessary for the capstone project, including attention to fostering the required information competence, critical thinking, and communication skills. IGE faculty also meet for an annual retreat each June to review progress and establish goals for the next academic year.

The IGE program is assessed in multiple ways, including both direct and indirect assessment. Students accumulate a portfolio of their work as they proceed through the program, and they evaluate their own learning each quarter. Faculty survey current students as well as alumni, and they conduct student interviews as the end of the first year, the middle of the second year, and the end of the program, faculty obtain their major direct evidence by assessing the portfolios and capstone projects, and an outside evaluator is periodically invited to visit courses and review student work.

IGE faculty consider themselves part of an ongoing learning community, and they routinely review assessment results and reflect on their implications. Over the years they have refined the capstone assignment, revised the curriculum and learning outcomes, developed effective relationships with staff at the campus library and student affairs offices, and monitored the impact of their changes on student learning (N.P. Fernandez, personal communication, July 1, 2005).

Institutional-Level Assessment Example: Truman State University

Truman State University assesses its general education program at the institutional level by embedding portfolio requirements in capstone courses taken in the majors. In 2003 approximately 83% of the graduating class submitted portfolios, and they reported spending about four or five hours develop them. Faculty who teach capstone courses assign and collect the portfolios, and some departments augment the assignment to collect additional data fro assessing majors. The assignment may change slightly from year to year, but during the 2002-2003 academic year, faculty required students to submit work demonstrating critical thinking, interdisciplinary thinking, historical analysis, scientific reasoning, and aesthetic analysis, as well as work that the student felt was most personally satisfying; a reflection on their growth while at Truman State; and anything the student would like to share about their university experience (Truman State University, 2005a).

Students receive explicit instructions for each segment of the portfolio. For example, the Spring 2005 assignment for Critical Thinking and Writing asks students to submit the best example of their writing that demonstrates critical thinking.

Please include an example of your best writing that demonstrates your critical thinking skills. As stated in Truman's LSP [Liberal Arts and Sciences Program] outcomes, good writing is a reflection of good thinking. Thus, as a result of an intellectual process that communicates meaning to a reader, good writing integrates ideas through analysis, evaluation, and synthesis of ideas and concepts. Good writing also exhibits skill in language usage and clarity of expression through good organization. (Truman State University, 2005c, p.1)

Students identify the course from which the writing sample was drawn and their academic status when taking the course (freshman, sophomore, etc.). They specify if the writing was individual or collaborative, describe the assignment that elicited the paper, reflect on the kinds of thinking demonstrated in the writing sample, and comment on their growth in critical thinking. Faculty assess the writing samples by focusing on critical thinking, organization, style, and mechanics (Truman State University, 2005c).

Although paper portfolios were required originally, Truman State University began requiring electronic portfolios in 2005. Students go to the portfolio web site ( for instructions, and they submit portfolios on disks, CDs, or other media. The assessment coordinator suggests that faculty review instructions in class and encourage students to work on different sections of the portfolio every two weeks, so that work is not done at the last minute. Students in courses requiring the portfolio must complete their portfolios before graduation, and this is certified during the graduation check process (Truman State University, 2005b).

Many portfolios are collected each year. For example, the portfolio director received nearly 1,000 portfolios in 2003-2004, and they were reviewed by 45 faculty and two staff members over a three-week period. Most faculty spent one week, working daily from around 8:00AM-4:30PM, and approximately 20 readers worked each week. Readers apply standards specified in rubrics to classify products into one of four categories: No evidence, Weak Competence, Competence, and Strong Competence (Truman State University, 2004).

Results are reported at the department, division, and university level, although only division and university results are made public in the annual Assessment Almanac, as well as at various events, such as planning workshops and faculty development luncheons (Truman State University, 2005a). The Assessment Almanacs are available online ( , allowing anyone to see the rubrics, the detailed analyses of each year's data, and qualitative analyses of the student's feedback about their learning and the campus.

Combining the Three Approaches

Campuses may assess at one or all levels. For example, faculty may use course-level assessment to assess each course in the college writing sequence to verify that it results in the learning required for entry into the subsequent course. Faculty may use program-level assessment to examine science outcomes by analyzing lab reports drawn from a variety of general education science courses, or a four-year institution may examine the impact of the general education science curriculum by collecting student work in upper division, general education science courses. In addition, some outcomes may be assessed at the institutional level. For example, information literacy may be introduced in general education courses, but the campus might expect further development within the majors. In this case, the combined impact of all courses might be assessed by examining student products