What do we really want to know about our students? The questions you ask will vary
from program to program, whether they deal with students learning specific content,
skills or attitudes or perhaps issues of student motivation and ability to monitor
their own learning. Our assumption is that the key assessment questions are best known
by the program faculty themselves, for they are the ones who encounter students on
a daily basis, whether in their classes or outside. But finding ways to answer these
questions is key to our success.
Academic assessment seeks to answer the broad question, "What and how well do our
students learn what we are attempting to teach them?" As such, it is primarily designed
to evaluate individual programs as a whole, such as academic majors or interdisciplinary
programs, and to determine where the programs might be strengthened in order to improve
the students' abilities to learn. The primary audience for academic assessments is
not administrators or accrediting agencies, but, rather, the program faculty themselves.
An assessment program is essentially a way of making implicit and informal discussions,
concerns, and questions that faculty have about their classes and their students explicit
in ways that are meaningful to the faculty, programs and the institution.
Academic assessments work best when they are designed and carried out by the academic
faculty themselves, supported by appropriate support units in the University. Therefore,
it is essential that all faculty in our programs ask themselves such key questions
as, "What should a graduate of our program know, be able to do, and/or value?" and
"How do our courses provide students with opportunities to develop their knowledge,
skills, and values?" The answers to such questions provide the basis for beginning
the assessment process.