Myths and 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-level learning assessment does not require student consent.

Program-level learning 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-level learning 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).

However, all program learning assessment must be conducted ethically with the utmost attention to assessment practices that support all students and their learning.

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 Mānoa 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 do not shed light on what students are learning. A student survey on learning achievement is an indirect measure of student learning, that is, it measures students’ perception of learning rather than actual learning.  In general, indirect measures are not sufficient evidence of student learning; however, they provide useful and actionable insight when coupled with direct measures of learning. In cases in which direct observation or a direct measure of learning is exceedingly difficult or not feasible, a student survey may be the only option. Examples: learning to appreciate, care, be self-reliant, respect the rights of others, prioritize time and effort

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: Learning assessment should be regularly conducted to understand curriculum effectiveness for the program’s students. A good rule of thumb is to assess each outcome at least once every program review cycle and to use the results to make evidence-based curriculum changes as needed. WASC does not require that every outcome and every student be assessed every year.  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 and Curriculum Development Office will help with planning assessment projects, developing learning outcomes, designing assignments, creating a coherent curriculum, conducting assessment, interpreting/using results, and so forth.

Myth #12: Assessment infringes on faculty academic freedom.

Reality: Faculty-driven, faculty-supervised, and faculty-conducted program-level learning assessment does not infringe upon academic freedom.  Gary Rhoades, former general secretary, American Association of University Professors (AAUP), sums it up nicely:

“To some observers as well as some faculty, the AAUP’s principles and policies might suggest that the association encourages its members to resist the assessment of student learning outcomes, including acting on that data to reform curriculum and instruction. That is a fundamental misreading and a misapplication of the association’s basic principles and policies as they pertain to assessment and institutional improvement. Of principal interest to the AAUP is the process by which assessment metrics are developed and applied and the process by which the findings of those assessments are translated into instructional and curricular reform.

Assessment of student learning and reform of teaching and academic programs are core academic activities. As such, the AAUP sees them as being the primary responsibility of faculty—individually and collectively. In the classroom, a core element of academic freedom is the autonomy of the individual faculty member to determine what and how to teach. At the same time, the AAUP emphasizes the collective responsibility of the faculty as a whole for academic programs, suggesting that an academic department, for instance, can adopt pedagogical or curricular standards that colleagues teaching the course(s) need to adopt.” (page 7,