Inside Iowa State
Feb. 23, 1996
ISU assesses how well it prepares students
by Linda Charles
Iowa State's success in educating students and preparing them to make useful contributions to society is likely to be a key focus of the North Central Association accreditation team when it visits campus next month.
"Student outcomes assessment" is an educator's term for evaluating how well a university prepares its students. In 1989, the NCA mandated that all member institutions develop an assessment program.
"I would hope that the accreditation team would see that we've made tremendous progress," said Mary Huba, Iowa State student outcomes assessment coordinator and chair of the university's Student Outcomes Assessment Committee. "The structure is in place, with a strong policy that revolves around faculty ownership. Colleges and departments have developed assessment plans and have been implementing those plans for the past three years."
While each plan is unique to a college or department, all the plans help assess what students know, what they understand and what they are able to do with their knowledge, Huba said.
The NCA approved Iowa State's plan last year, Huba said. "As a result of feedback from the NCA, we have extended student outcomes assessment from undergraduate programs to graduate programs," she added.
Student outcomes assessment plans for graduate programs were prepared last May. Initial progress on the plans will be reviewed this May, she said.
The student assessment process shifts the emphasis away from the professor and toward student learning, said Huba, interim assistant dean of the College of Education and professor of professional studies in education.
The process can change faculty's approach to teaching. In the past, professors often would focus on what material should be covered. In the student outcomes assessment process, the focus includes what students need to know by the end of the course.
Student outcomes assessment must be faculty-driven to be successful because faculty develop and control the curriculum, Huba said. "The faculty should evaluate the success of the curriculum."
One of Huba's roles is to educate faculty about assessment issues. So far, faculty have been enthusiastic, Huba said. "The faculty at Iowa State are really interested in teaching and they care about it."
About half of the academic departments have completed the entire student outcomes assessment cycle, a five-step process. Those steps include:
- Developing a statement of what students are expected to learn.
- Ensuring that the curriculum offers opportunities to meet expectations.
- Identifying measures to assess whether expectations have been met.
- Gathering, analyzing and interpreting data.
- Using results to revise the curriculum and improve instruction.
Statistics is one of the departments that have successfully completed the cycle, Huba said. Faculty used multiple measures to assess students' knowledge of the mathematical and theoretical basis of statistics and modern statistical methods; proficiency in particular areas; competency in statistical computing; and ability to communicate statistical findings to a lay audience.
Measurements included: grade distributions in key areas; graduates' performance on actuarial exam; number of graduate degrees awarded; graduates' first employment positions; and a survey of graduates and their employers.
The assessment showed student achievement in all areas, Huba said. However, employers indicated graduates needed better communication skills and experience with real world data sets. The department revised statistics courses to address those needs.
The political science department also is revising some of its classes as a result of an alumni survey, Huba said. Although alumni said they were satisfactorily prepared to participate in their communities' political life, they indicated some dissatisfaction with their preparation for solving problems. As a result, critical thinking will receive greater emphasis in the department's planned orientation class.
SURVEY OF SENIORS
Last spring, the Student Outcomes Assessment Committee surveyed graduating seniors to assess their perceptions of how they had changed since entering Iowa State. The survey centered around common goals in undergraduate education, listed in the university's mission statement.
The overwhelming majority of those surveyed reported strong gains in knowledge in their major fields and preparation for careers, Huba said. They also reported they were better able to use technology in their fields, think critically and solve problems than they had been when they entered Iowa State.
Students reported gains in interpersonal and leadership skills, the ability to work cooperatively as well as independently, writing skills and the ability to make oral presentations. They also said they had greater knowledge of different races and cultures.
These results indicate that Iowa State is successfully meeting its goal to foster individual development and prepare students to make useful contributions to society, Huba said.
The graduating students also reported gains, although not as strong, in areas related to literacy in science and technology, understanding humane and ethical values, awareness of the intellectual, historical and artistic foundations of our culture, and sensitivity to other cultures and international concerns.
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