Assessment Myths & Realities

  • Myth #1: External accountability is the most important goal of assessment. We assess programs because WASC says we must.

Reality:  First and foremost, Mānoa uses assessment results to improve student learning and advance the university.

  • Myth #2: Collecting student work for program assessment purposes requires student consent.

Reality: Student work collected for program assessment does not require student consent.

Program assessment is excluded from the Committee on Human Studies/Institutional Review Board (IRB) review because it does not meet the definition of research. The Code of Federal Regulations found at 45 CFR 46.102(d) defines research in part as contributing to generalizable knowledge. Program assessment per se does not meet this definition. However, if a person or program plans to disseminate or publish program assessment results beyond program improvement or accreditation purposes then IRB review is necessary.

Program assessment does not violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) if all personally identifiable information is removed before releasing student information. Please note that FERPA does allow disclosure of personally identifiable information of a student without written consent if that disclosure is to an accrediting organization or to other UHM officials and faculty members and UHM has determined that those officials and faculty members have legitimate educational interests (see FERPA section 99.31).

  • Myth #3: Assessment of student learning is a means of decreasing faculty’s autonomy.

Reality:  Assessment of student learning is a means of increasing the mutual engagement of faculty, students, and staff in providing an optimal learning experience.  Assessment is a tool for faculty members to improve student learning. Assessment at Manoa is faculty initiated, driven, and supervised.

  • Myth #4: Assessment is another academic fad and if Mānoa waits long enough, it will go away.

Reality: Every indication we have says assessment is here to stay. The outcomes assessment movement has been a serious one since 1985. Its momentum is growing not waning. All higher education accreditation agencies (including WASC) across the country now include the assessment of learning outcomes as one of their priorities.

  • Myth #5: Assessment is about finding fault.

Reality: Assessment is not about finding fault with programs, courses, or individuals; it is about agreeing on what is most important in our courses and programs, communicating that to all stakeholders, and finding out what’s working and what’s not.  Great assessment results can and should be used to trumpet success, market programs, motivate faculty, students, and staff, and justify a program’s worth. Less-than-satisfactory assessment results indicate that changes need to be made so students reach our expectations.

  • Myth #6: The most efficient way to carry out assessment is to assign a single faculty member the responsibility of conducting all the assessments.  Too many people and opinions would only complicate and hinder the process.

Reality: While it is a good idea to have one or two faculty members spearhead the assessment process for the department, it is really important and beneficial to have all faculty members involved. Each person brings different perspectives and ideas for improving the academic program.  It is vital that all faculty members understand and agree to the mission, goals, and learning outcomes of the program.

  • Myth #7: Course grades are adequate indicators of student learning

Reality: Traditionally, the assignment of a grade to an individual student provides a summary measure about the student’s performance in the class. Usually, grades do not convey direct information about which of the program learning outcomes were met or how well the student met the outcomes.

However, there are ways to use grades in assessment. For example, when a team of faculty review the student’s course work and assign the course grade based on how well the student achieved a set of program outcomes.

  • Myth #8: Surveys of student satisfaction with a course or program are sufficient evidence of student learning.

Reality: Student satisfaction surveys are indirect measures of student learning, that is, they measure student perception of learning rather than actual learning.  As a result, indirect measures are not sufficient evidence of student learning; however, they can provide useful and actionable insight when coupled with direct measures of learning.

  • Myth #9: There are too many students to assess and a sample of students would not demonstrate the effectiveness of a program.

Reality: Sampling can be an efficient method of collecting student work, provided the sample is representative of the students you want to assess and large enough to confidently make generalizations.

  • Myth #10: We need to assess every outcome and every student every year.  All learning outcomes have to be assessed every year.

Reality: WASC does not require that every outcome and every student be assessed every year.  However, there should be a plan for all outcomes to be systematically assessed on a regular cycle.  Note: Some colleges/schools have professional accreditation agencies that have different and often more stringent requirements than WASC requirements.

  • Myth #11: I don’t know where to start or what to do. There is no support available.

Reality: There are resources on the Mānoa campus to help your department/program get started or refine current assessment efforts. The Assessment Office will help with planning assessment projects, developing learning outcomes, conducting assessments, and interpreting/using results.