Program Measure Selection

Program Measure Selection

When selecting means to assess program outcomes, several factors need to be taken into consideration:

  • do they provide measurable or observable information?
  • do they address specific program outcomes?
  • are there ongoing measures or practices you can use as assessment measures?
  • are they within your program's budgetary limitations?
  • will they fit into your assessment timeline?
  • will the results be meaningful in a way that will enable the program to make effective changes as necessary?

Assessment Methods

Alumni Surveys
  • strengths — broad range of information about actual experience after completing degree or earning certificate either in the workplace or as a transfer student. Concrete examples of where experiences proved most and least useful.
  • weaknesses — difficult to maintain accurate, comprehensive alumni database, making sample responses more likely to be skewed. Survey methods must also be carefully scrutinized.
Culminating Assignments
  • strengths — a final project that demonstrates a comprehensive skill set can be an effective measure of student knowledge
  • weaknesses — developing a project that adequately encompasses the entirety or the majority of performance outcomes can be difficult. This form of assessment is time-consuming for both student and faculty, however, and requires clear communication regarding goals by the faculty member, so adequate time needs to allowed for its completion. Also it may prove more effective as an outcome measure if faculty other than the course instructor conduct the assessment evaluation.
Content Analysis
  • strengths — assessment of a particular skill based on cross-sectional observation of specific samples (such as a selection of writing samples from different sections of the same class drawn from similar or identical assignments) can provide a good cross-section of how a wide range of students are doing on a particular outcome without using any form of intrusive measure.
  • weaknesses — assessment should be performed by more than one reviewer in order to reduce limitations based on the skills of the particular observer, making this method labor intensive. Additionally duplicating this assessment at different points in the semester provides more accurate information. Finding a particular assignment that bears directly on a desired outcome can prove difficult.
Employer Surveys
  • strengths — feedback from employers regarding the skills and performance of program graduates can provide invaluable data regarding the areas where a program is strong and weak, which aspects of the program may not be relevant and where additional skill development would be desirable.
  • weaknesses — as with alumni surveys, determining an appropriate pool of respondents can be difficult, potentially skewing survey results. Also surveys need to be carefully designed to extract solid information.
Focus Groups
  • strengths — a group interview on a carefully selected set of questions and topics, focus groups can provide insight into ideas and experiences using the generative factor of group dynamics to facilitate response.
  • weaknesses — this is an inappropriate method for gaining quantitative data and the value of the qualitative data will be determined by the skill of the moderator, who must present an unbiased and disinterested perspective while encouraging engagement. Skilled observers and documentary equipment will also make these sessions more useful. Most problematic is the non-standardized nature of group discussion so that synthesizing results can be difficult.
Performance Assessment
  • strengths — evaluation of particular tasks or assignments (auditions, tests, speeches, etc.) can provide exacting information about the skill attainment of individuals in the program, giving them the ability to assess themselves as well.
  • weaknesses — careful articulation of objectives is essential to student success as are consistent methods of evaluation of which students are made aware in advance.
Portfolio Evaluations
  • strengths — demonstrate the accumulation of knowledge over time, providing a record of student development as well as providing a capstone project that is also suitable for the student to use potentially while job searching.
  • weaknesses — portfolios require extended commitments of time by both students and faculty and their developmental character can, in some situations, be a detriment in terms of assessment. They also can be costly and bulky, depending upon the subject matter, considerations which need to be taken into account in relation to their impact on students with limited resources.
Pre-Test/Post-Test Evaluations
  • strengths — using locally developed exams at the beginning and end of courses or course sequences to determine the extent to which particular outcomes have been achieved can provide relatively concrete data regarding performance.
  • weaknesses — Tests must be carefully designed in order to ascertain that they are measuring the desired outcomes and doing so in a standardized fashion. Determining appropriate times to administer them can be difficult. Similarly recordkeeping to evaluate individual progress can be burdensome.
Reflective Essays and CATs
  • strengths — reflective essays and CATs (classroom assessment techniques) such as Muddiest Point can provide direct feedback regarding students' perceptions of their understanding of particular points of knowledge or sections of a subject. Anonymous responses often enable students to admit when they feel especially unclear about particular aspects of a subject.
  • weaknesses — vague or poor wording can severely limit the usefulness of student responses, as can questions that do not encourage sufficiently lengthy responses. The accuracy of perceptions can also limit the usefulness of this technique.
Student Surveys and Exit Interviews
  • strengths — surveys can give a snapshot of a particular moment in time and work best with non-controversial topics. Data is easy to collect and tabulate and there are several online survey tools available for use for free.
  • weaknesses — survey questions must be carefully constructed in order to limit ambiguity and get at the subjects of interest. The degree of anonymity will also affect the extent of accuracy in answers. The same is true of exit interviews, where students' responses will be greatly impacted by both the nature of the question and the interviewer. Low response rate on surveys will limit their reliability and usefulness.


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