Assessing Learner Outcomes

Characteristics of Southern's assessment system

The intent of Southern's assessment system is to consider the whole general education program, and not to repeat mistakes made in the past which looked at individual departments and programs in isolation from one another. Southern's general education program, the Liberal Education Program (LEP), is comprised of three tiers, and students are assessed at every tier. Affinity groups are interdisciplinary teams that represent the different departments within an LEP competency area. For example, the Technological Fluency affinity group comprises faculty from computer science, physics, communication, women's studies, and geography. Representatives from these departments collaborated on developing a common rubric that is relevant to all Technological Fluency courses, regardless of department.

Thus, Southern's assessment system encompasses the university as a whole (including both academic affairs and student affairs), schools, departments, programs, and courses. The Office of Assessment and Planning coordinates the assessment system so that there is a coherency in the university's approach to assessment as well as the integration of assessment activities from the university level to the individual course level.

The assessment system is comprised of both external and internal assessments. An example of an external assessment is the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) and an example of an internal, local assessment is the rubric created by the Cultural Expressions interdisciplinary affinity group. Within the assessment system, there are different types of assessments. Types include performance-based tests, rubrics, and surveys. In evaluating the LEP, direct outcome measures are used. Surveys are also administered to complement the scores obtained from the performance-based assessments and rubrics; For example, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is administered, a student self-report survey. Both formative and summative assessments are included in the assessment system.

Data from the LEP competency rubrics and performance-based assessments are collected and analyzed by the university's Office of Assessment and Planning—and then shared with the campus community. For example, small-group "parlor meetings" are held with faculty from across the campus. During the parlor meetings, key assessment findings are presented and discussed. In addition, small-group meetings are held with the Liberal Education Program Committee, the Provost's Council, and the Undergraduate Curriculum Forum. Also, brief reports that highlight interesting or unexpected findings are sent on an ongoing basis to committees addressing particular subgroups of students or issues as well as to the Provost Council, which includes the academic deans.

The Office of Assessment and Planning sponsors events to promote faculty members' knowledge of assessment practices. For example, the university's participation in a nation-wide assessment project, the Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Quality Student Learning, led to an additional day at the May 2015 Teaching Academy. Faculty members who had received training from the AAC&U on scoring rubrics as part of the Multi-State Collaborative conducted an inter-rater reliability workshop for their colleagues. De-identified papers that students had submitted for the Multi-State Collaborative were scored by faculty members and discussed until consensus on the scoring had been reached. The implementation of the Multi-State Collaborative at Southern exemplifies how innovative assessment initiatives are leveraged to reach integration in the university's assessment system between the individual course level and the university as a whole.

Southern's assessment system provides timely reports in order to impact students in the here-and-now. Even before new and transfer students arrive on campus, for example, actionable data are collected. Students indicate on the locally-developed Student Orientation Survey whether there are reasons why they may not enroll in the fall. Common reasons include financial challenges, housing issues, and family matters. Within one day, these "red flags" on the survey are sent to such university offices on campus as Residential Life and Financial Aid. Students on the "red flag" listed are tracked over time by the Office of Assessment and Planning to follow their progress. So, too, timely reports are prepared for programs. For academic program review, surveys are administered to current students, faculty, and alumni. Reports are prepared within one week after surveys are closed so that programs may use the data when making decisions.

Course, competency, program, and institutional level

Southern's assessment system encompasses courses, competencies, programs, and the institutional as a whole. At the institutional level, the assessment system regularly and rigorously evaluates the impact of both academic affairs and student affairs. There is a coherency in the assessment of both sides of the university because the Office of Assessment and Planning coordinates all the assessment activities.

One way in which students' learning beyond the classroom ("co-curricular learning") is systematically assessed is through the Southern Experience Survey, which is administered to sophomores and juniors. A taskforce comprising faculty and staff from student affairs developed this continuing student survey. The taskforce was jointly chaired by the Vice President for Student Affairs and the Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences. The survey emerged from the work of the Student Success Taskforce. Predictive models of student success have been built based on the data collected from this survey. The models have demonstrated the importance of promoting students' sense of belonging as a retention factor. The research showed that students' self-regulation is enhanced when they have a sense of belonging; In turn, this provides them with the commitment that they need to override self-absorbed and self-indulgent behaviors.

Program-specific learner outcomes

In parallel with the university-wide assessment of student learning, each program has developed specific learner outcomes that reflect the areas of knowledge, competencies, attitudes, and behaviors expected of graduates. In order to ensure academic excellence and the continuous improvement of academic program quality, the university engages in the periodic, systematic, and comprehensive review of every academic program. The program review process meets the expectations of the New England Commission of Higher Education, our regional accreditation body. The focus of academic program review is the assessment of student learning. Other indicators of quality and productivity are evaluated as well. Program faculty use data obtained through the program review process to implement curriculum changes, as needed.