Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Students' Learning Outcomes

An Outcomes-Based Assessment Model

Outcomes-based assessment has become the go-to model for assessment practices in education from elementary schools through post-graduate programs.  However, there is a weakness in the model.


What's missing from the model is a level of alignment and an opportunity for feedback from students about what students want to gain or achieve by the time they reach graduation.

Outcomes-Based Assessment Model Overview

To give a quick overview, institutions have goals, abilities and qualities they want students to have by the time they reach graduation.  Schools and disciplines or departments have goals, too, which are more specific abilities and qualities for students to demonstrate by the time they graduate from that particular school, discipline, or department.  The abilities and qualities institutions, schools, disciplines or departments want students to gain are taught and assessed in specific classes.

Class goals align with departmental or discipline goals, which align to goals of a particular school, which align with the institution's broad goals for all students.   In that way, each individual class clearly helps students move closer to an achievement of proficiency in the departmental or discipline goals and outcomes, and the institutional goals and outcomes, concurrently.

The Students' Goals

This is an effective model for assessment, no doubt.  In this model, though,  I see the potential for an institution to ignore, either intentionally or unintentionally, the goals of the students.  Theoretically, students accept as their own the outcomes set forth in the courses, departments or disciplines, schools, and institutions they choose.  When the outcomes determined by faculty, administrators and stakeholders do not align with the abilities and qualities the students want to achieve, however, where in the model do the students have an opportunity to offer feedback?

Of course, faculty can ascertain this type of misalignment within individual courses, but generally do not have the authority to change the outcomes or goals that are assigned a particular course because of the consistency required for assessment.  Administrators and stakeholders may hear from some students and faculty about any misalignment, but such anecdotal information is not statistically relevant enough to overhaul institutional goals and outcomes.

Program Review

The answer may lie in the program review process.  Indirect data collected via surveys sent to students, graduates, faculty, staff, and employers could be used to gather evidence of any misalignment between or among the institution's, school's, discipline or department's goals and outcomes and the students' goals.  This type of data, unlike anecdotal evidence, may be statistically significant enough to encourage changes to any outdated or otherwise irrelevant goals, from bottom (course goals and outcomes) to top, or from top (institutional goals and outcomes) to bottom.

This type of survey data must become common practice, part of standard procedures for program review, if an institution wants its goals and stated outcomes to remain relevant in a changing world. Students' goals, their requests to learn specific abilities and gain specific qualities, should not be ignored, but should become part of an institution's annual assessment practices.

Want to read more about teaching and assessment?  Try

Composition and Field Journals
Student-Centered or Curriculum-Centered?
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Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish. 

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