L&S Assessment FAQ: What is the L&S approach to "Assessment"?

This document attempts to convey a few fundamental principles that guide assessment activities in the College of Letters and Science.

The faculty, instructional, and advising staff of the UW-Madison College of Letters and Science are constantly engaged in evaluative activities related to and including the assessment of student learning.  These activities serve many purposes:  
  • Systematically understanding academic programs helps departments monitor program efficacy, providing a rational foundation for enacting and observing the effect of curricular change.
  • Careful analysis of academic program operations helps departments make the most effective use of limited resources.
  • Information obtained through efforts to assess and improve student learning is essential to college-level decision-making processes, as when the L&S Curriculum Committee considers requests to change program requirements (see Changes to Program Requirements (Major, Option, or Certificate) ), or when the L&S Academic Planning Council considers requests to create new programs (see New Majors, Certificates, and Formally Transcripted Options ).
  • Assessment provides information essential to Academic Program Review, which takes a broader look at what students are learning (see Academic Program Review - An Overview ).
  • This process provides assurance to many audiences (faculty, administrators, the public, parents, students) that our students have not merely completed degree requirements, but that in doing so, they have mastered a body of knowledge or acquired a set of skills. In many ways, assessment is used to understand and certify that UW-Madison programs have the capacity to, and do in fact, produce graduates who are ready to assume places among an educated citizenry, whether they enter the workforce or pursue further professional or scholarly studies.
  • On a related note, UW-Madison is required to have processes that evaluate student learning in academic programs; these activities are required for accreditation; accreditation is required for the university to receive Federal funding (from grants to student financial aid).
As noted in the L&S Assessment Plan , the context for the assessment of student learning depends on the people and groups responsible for designing and delivering our academic programs. Hence, responsibility for ensuring that departments and programs have well-defined learning goals falls to the faculty who design program curricula and develop the courses that enliven them. Given the key role UW-Madison faculty play in curricular decisions, faculty leadership and departmental autonomy are essential facets of the assessment of student learning at this university. No single set of learning goals has been (or could be) imposed on all departments; rather, learning objectives and their relationship to the curricula flow from decisions departmental faculty make about what students need to learn. The departments in which academic programs reside must develop and make assessment plans work within their resources in service to the learning goals defined by the faculty.  Thus, the following principles guide our assessment efforts:
  • Many “ordinary” processes of academic life are evaluative.  When approached systematically, from an analytical perspective, these activities can serve as important ongoing forms of assessment.
  • Academic assessment supplements but does not replace curricular, departmental, and other types of ongoing review for improvement.
  • Our programs have a wide array of learning objectives; therefore, L&S does not have a “one-plan-fits-all” assessment approach.
  • Departments and programs are central to academic assessment: faculty and staff develop and implement plans that align learning goals with their departmental missions, using tools appropriate to their available human, financial, and technical resources; and results are used to achieve or expand upon improvement.
  • Non-academic and student service units play an important role in supporting student learning; they can also help us evaluate our students’ integrative, practical, and other critical thinking skills.
  • Faculty ownership and participation in assessment activities is essential.

Questions or comments about L&S Assessment activities may be directed to the Associate Dean for Academic Planning, Elaine M. Klein (elaine.klein<at>wisc.edu).

See Also:

Keywords:Learning outcomes, assessment of student learning, outcomes assessment   Doc ID:25284
Owner:Elaine K.Group:College of Letters & Science
Created:2012-07-25 13:06 CDTUpdated:2016-07-19 10:53 CDT
Sites:College of Letters & Science
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