Coordinating Student Affairs Divisional Assessment: A Practical Guide
Within academia, assessment is often viewed with active suspicion or dismissed as irrelevant by many faculty and student affairs practitioners who are otherwise deeply committed to their students’ learning.
Nevertheless, there is common ground upon which to have a conversation about implementing assessment to improve learning, given that everyone shares the goals of enabling students to learn and developing their self-authorship. The process of assessment, however, requires defining what is meant by learning–is it simply passing exams or the ability to use and apply the knowledge gained?–and letting every stakeholder raise questions, air concerns, and contribute to defining terminology and goals. These components take time and patience and cannot be rushed. Without building relationships and trust, any assessment initiative is doomed to fail.
Trust requires that the process be formative and used to improve the teaching or service experience so that students achieve the goals agreed upon. It should not be used to evaluate the individuals delivering the course or co-curricular activity being assessed.
As this book, Coordinating Student Affairs Divisional Assessment, points out, ethical beha
vior is critical in developing and managing an assessment program.
All data should be collected with the intention of increasing knowledge, gaining awareness, or making improvement. Collecting data to punish specific people or programs should be avoided. Likewise collecting data that are never intended to be used or shared should be avoided.
Still, in a time of tight funding, poor assessment results can and will have implications. Assessment coordinators and leaders need to understand and communicate this truth to their colleagues at the very beginning of the process before data collection begins. To quote from this volume:
Understanding how those with power will respond to the results is important. Assessment professionals have to think of how to effectively share “bad” or uncomfortable results before actually collecting data. This approach places the focus on using results for planning and improvement, rather than just gathering the results themselves. Assessment can have fiscal repercussions if the results indicate a program is not successful, especially in times of scarce resources. The assessment coordinator is probably just the messenger, rather than the program coordinator, and the programmatic reputational risk can be a scary endeavor for some units. Student affairs staff may have based their success on anecdotal evidence that their programs are beneficial. The assessment coordinator challenges staff to provide more direct evidence, which may conflict with the anecdotes.
Staff can also have an emotional reaction and fear the process and results. Fear is one of the biggest barriers to developing an assessment culture. The politically astute assessment coordinator can allay those fears by developing relationships, encouraging staff to start with a win, and ensuring that staff are not personally evaluated based on assessment results.
“Coordinating Student Affairs Divisional Assessment is a comprehensive A-Z guide to establishing, evolving and sustaining a student affairs division assessment program. The authors offer a practical and professionally grounded model to inform and support successful leadership of student affairs assessment. The beauty and brilliance of “Coordinating Student Affairs Divisional Assessment is in the aggregate design it offers to demystify student affairs assessment and make successful leadership accessible.” -Larry D. Roper , Oregon State University
Neither fear nor ignorance of purpose should keep professionals invested in student success from assessment. The strategies provided in Coordinating Student Affairs Divisional Assessment will help overcome these barriers and set your department on the path to becoming its most effective self.
About the Editors:
Kimberly Yousey-Elsener is the director of assessment and evaluation for University Life and Services at the University of Buffalo. In addition, she serves as associate editor for internal publications for ACPA and on the faculty for the College Student Personnel Administration program at Canisius College.
Erin Bentrim is a visiting assistant professor of psychology at Wingate University. She is also a consultant who specializes in student assessment and strategic planning. She was the national co-chair of the NASPA Assessment, Evaluation, and Research Knowledge Community from 2009 to 2011 and is a founding member of the Student Affairs Assessment Leaders.
Gavin W. Henning is the Associate Professor of Higher Education at New England College where he also directs the Master of Science in Higher Education Administration and the Doctorate of Education programs. He has served as president of ACPA—College Student Educators International as well as on the board of directors and executive committee of the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS).
Coordinating Student Affaisrs Divisional Assessment: A Practical Guide. Edited by Kimberly Yousey-Elsnener, Erin Bentrim, and Gavin W. Henning. Co-published with ACPA, College Student Educators International and NASPA, The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Inc.
December 2015, 176 pp., 6″ x 9″, Paper, 978 1 62036 328 7, $29.95. Also available in eBook format.