In September, ATL presented Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Erica Austin and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Mary Wack with the 2016 summary of program assessment reports from all WSU undergraduate degrees.

WSU’s undergraduate degree programs report annually on their system of assessing student learning, a practice begun in 2009. Program-level assessment looks at student learning in a degree or program of study — focusing on the key skills and knowledge students should develop, as well as their experiences in the curriculum. Assessment helps faculty collaboratively develop, maintain and improve an effective curriculum that promotes student learning. 

Overall, WSU undergraduate degree programs demonstrate an “effective, regular, and comprehensive system of assessment of student achievement,” as expected by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), WSU’s regional accreditor. Substantially all programs reported having all key assessment elements in place in 2016, continuing an upward trend over the past three years, which contributes to meeting WSU’s strategic plan goals for transformative undergraduate experience. Additionally, all programs completed an assessment cycle for at least one program-level student learning outcome and used results to inform program decisions over the last two years. In most programs, these decisions were characterized as being about curriculum, instruction or faculty development — the sorts of decisions that contribute most directly to improving student learning.

Assessment of student learning at the senior-level has been an area of attention and focus over the past two years, and emerges as a strength in 2016. Substantially all programs reported collecting a senior-level direct measure of student learning near the end of their degree, providing information about what students are able to achieve at the end of the curriculum. Assessment measures and results take a variety of forms in different programs as appropriate to their disciplines.

Faculty conduct significant work toward continuous improvement of curriculum, instruction, and assessment that does not necessarily show up in the specific task of measuring student achievement. Various types of assessment-related activities reported in the past two years support teaching and program improvement and help develop meaningful assessment.  Assessment activities offer ways for faculty to think about student learning in the curriculum and how to support it most effectively in their own classes and department. While difficult to capture, these faculty activities cumulate and contribute over time to promoting student learning.

WSU’s comprehensive accreditation review by the NWCCU will take place in Fall 2017. In preparation, ATL will continue to work with programs to ensure that all assessment elements are in place and effective.

While much progress in the quality of undergraduate program assessment systems has been made in the past five years, the 2016 reports suggest that further work is needed in several areas.

  • Additional attention is needed to ensure that online students, courses, and teaching faculty are included in assessment activities for all degrees offered online. Programs considering expanding online offerings should ensure they include online courses and students in program-level assessment.
  • Programs should continue their efforts to ensure that assessment in multi-campus degrees includes students, courses, and faculty from all campuses offering the degree.
  • Work is also needed to develop effective archives of assessment, which are useful to faculty and departments, and which will be important for the university’s 2017 accreditation review.

Finally, ATL extends appreciation to all faculty and chairs who have invested time in their assessment activities, as well as into their annual reports. As faculty and leadership engage in assessment over time, and work with ATL to improve the quality and utility of their assessment elements, we are collectively developing mature, meaningful systems that meet the evolving needs of WSU students, faculty and disciplines.