Assessing Student Competence in Accredited Disciplines: Pioneering Approaches to Assessment in Higher Education

Catherine A. Palomba and Trudy W. Banta, Editors (Stylus, 2001)

Reviewed by Meredith J.D. Adams


Assessing Student Competence in Accredited Disciplines is an edited volume for institutional research staff and faculty involved in programmatic assessment, especially for those new to the process. It provides general guidelines for assessment as well as content-specific chapters. The book editors, Palomba and Banta, wrote Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing, and Improving Assessment in Higher Education (Jossey-Bass, 1999).

This book offers definitions of relevant terms, including “assessment” and “competencies,” and describes how effective assessment of student competencies can be implemented. Chapters 3-10 are discipline-specific, including social work, engineering, computer science, teacher education, business, visual arts, pharmacy, and nursing. The chapters focus on accreditation boards and councils, such as the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology), and the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC). While the structures of individual chapters are different, each chapter author shares the history of accreditation within a discipline and presents examples of content-based outcomes and assessment of those outcomes.

Chapter 3 (“Assessing Student Competence in Teacher Education Programs” by Mary E. Diez) and Chapter 5 (“Assessment of Student Learning in the Discipline of Nursing” by Donna L. Boland and Juanita Laidig) highlight the differences in chapter structures and themes found throughout this book. In Chapter 3, Diez first addresses the factors that create change in teacher education (TE) program accreditation. Then, Diez contrasts the different purposes of assessment in TE, and what it means for assessment-focused TE. Finally, an overview of emerging issues in TE concludes the chapter.

Boland and Laidig present similar themes in Chapter 5, but expand these perspectives in a few areas. First, the history of nursing education is shared – from its heritage to the modern context – and then the chapter shifts to focus on external drivers and forces in the nursing profession. From there, the authors describe competence-based nursing education practices (e.g., What are they? How can we assess these competences?) and offer examples of assessment of student learning models. Finally, like the TE chapter, the nursing chapter ends with discussion of the future of assessment and related challenges.

The remaining chapters of Assessing Student Competence in Accredited Disciplines are not discipline-specific; Chapter 11 addresses authentic assessment in accredited programs, and Chapter 12 describes programmatic assessment from a British perspective. Finally, in a culminating chapter that weaves together the themes presented throughout the book, Palomba discusses guidelines for assessment that readers can apply in every discipline.

Some readers may consume the general chapters of this book and skip ahead to the disciplines of choice, leaving more than half the book unread. However, they would be remiss to do so as each chapter provides new thoughts, best practices, perspectives, evidences, and processes that can benefit every discipline.

Mentioned many times throughout the book is the fact that faculty need to be involved in and even direct assessments of student competencies. This practice is missing in many institutions, and examples from a variety of disciplines can be found in these chapters. Few instances of classroom assessment were discussed in this volume, but that was not the focus of this book; the editors state in the beginning chapters that this volume centers on program and professional assessment for accreditation.            

This volume is essential for individuals who are looking for assessment histories and practices for a multitude of disciplines in one place. Because the climate of assessment is continuously changing, an updated version of this book (especially on specific chapters, such as education) would be helpful to an audience looking for a more current context.

Meredith J.D. Adams is Teaching Assistant Professor in the College of Education at North Carolina State University.



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