Assessment: IR’s Role in Telling the Student Learning Story

by Leah Ewing Ross  

Assessment illuminates the core of the higher education enterprise—that is, assessment helps colleges and universities tell the story of student learning. In order to explore how well we are doing in this arena, eAIR spoke with George Kuh, Chancellor’s Professor of Higher Education Emeritus at Indiana University and Co-Principal Investigator of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) at University of Illinois. He explains that one of the greatest challenges for chief academic officers is figuring out how to aggregate information from assessment activities at the classroom and program levels to create full pictures of student learning at the institutional level. 

As part of the effort to learn more about assessment, in mid-April NILOA will reach out to chief academic officers at every accredited two- and four-year college and university in the U.S. to invite their participation in the National Survey of Learning Outcomes Assessment. The goal of the survey is to gain a clear picture of the current state of the assessment of undergraduate student learning. It builds on and updates NILOA’s first national survey, conducted in 2009, which highlighted that far more assessment activity was taking place on college campuses at that time than even informed observers realized. However, provosts expressed a desire for more faculty awareness of assessment work, and program administrators wanted more examples of how to assess student learning. The intention of the 2013 follow-up survey is to see how patterns of assessment work have changed over time and to determine if more transparency has been achieved in the ways colleges and universities report findings. 

Assessment initiatives at the classroom and program levels document learning in ways national surveys cannot, yet it is cumbersome and complex to gather all of the data from performance appraisals, rubrics, home-grown measures, and more to determine how well students learn overall. This challenge is one that institutional researchers can tackle by helping chief academic officers develop platforms that portray rich harvests of learning. The role of IR in assessment varies by institution, but at a basic level, IR professionals should know if their institutions’ assessment approaches are comparable to the approaches used by benchmark institutions. Furthermore, although it is difficult to be precise, IR can explore whether the resources devoted to assessment—including governance structures and dollars—are similar to the resources employed by other institutions.  

NILOA works to “discover and disseminate ways that academic programs and institutions can productively use assessment data.” It provides a range of resources designed for both experts and novices, including examples of assessment practice; reports, papers, and briefs on assessment-related topics; workshop and conference presentations; and the Transparency Framework, a tool “to help institutions evaluate the extent to which they are making evidence of student accomplishments readily accessible and potentially useful and meaningful to various audiences.” 

Institutions that participate in the National Survey of Learning Outcomes Assessment will receive advance copies of the report, prior to public release. These data will be especially valuable to IR offices with assessment responsibilities and for relevant benchmarking efforts. eAIR readers interested in learning more about this survey and other NILOA resources are encouraged to explore the NILOA website and are welcome to network with NILOA team members during their concurrent sessions at the 2013 AIR Forum 

What assessment resources does your institution use? Share your thoughts and questions below. 



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Total Comments: 5
Marlene posted on 4/10/2013 5:47 PM
Very engaging piece about the relationship of IR to assessment. NILOA is a great asset to the community!
Cliff posted on 4/11/2013 1:45 PM
For too many, the word, "assessment," implies external documentations,
standardization, and mechanical processes. The Degree Qualifications
Profile (DQP)is changing that rhetoric to one of "assignments," prods shaped
by individual faculty or departments that elicit student behaviors that grow from explicit learning outcome statements, behaviors that allow those same faculty to judge whether (and how well) the student had matched the outcome. This approach allows for a vast range of "assignments," from lab specifications, to art exhibit protocols, to papers, to field work notes, to examination questions (both restricted and unrestricted response), and on and on. Without a sample of these prods for each DQP competency statement an institution adopts, there is no competency. Not really. The challenge for IR people, in consultation with registrars, is developing a record-keeping system in this world of competencies and assignments. We can have a long discussion---and should--on how to do that.
George posted on 4/11/2013 5:36 PM
To add to Cliff's post about the value of the DQP, NILOA's second national survey of provosts' about their institution's assessment practices includes several questions about the DQP. To learn more about the DQP and NILOA's role in tracking its use, check out the DQP Corner on NILOA's website:
We welcome comments from colleges and universities as to how the DQP is being used or questions about the DQP itself.
Eric posted on 4/12/2013 12:03 PM
My institution uses a combination of home grown and national surveys and assessments. The national instruments that we have used are CCSSE and SSI. We are about to begin our five-year Quality Enhancement Plan for SACS on critical thinking, and will likely use the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) or the disposition inventory.

I'm looking forward to NILOA's followup work!
Gerry posted on 4/12/2013 1:41 PM
First let me applaud what George and NILOA are doing to broaden thee conversation about learning assessment. Coupled with other national efforts we can balance the conversation about producing degrees and certificates with the conversation about learning. Second let me relay a personal experience. When I first stepped in front of a class, i began to have a deeper appreciation of assessment. I am an adjunct so I con't have the full appreciation of the faculty perspective, but I strongly encourage everyone to seek out and take advantage of any opportunity to teach. It is true that experiential learning is a deeper and richer experience and the practice of scholarship is a bridge to the conversation about assessment and engagement.