Jaimie Haider and Ashley Moir, Texas State University
Editor’s Note: Readers interested in learning more about planning and implementing a successful assessment plan may want to consider attending NACADA’s focused Assessment Institute. Learn about available scholarships here.
Implementing a successful outcomes assessment plan, particularly one that assesses learning and performance across campus units, is a big undertaking. Institutions often develop well-written plans and seek out the highest quality data collection software and methods in their efforts to implement such a plan. As institutions chart the course toward assessment success, knowledge and resources are certainly essential, but they are not foundational. Without employing the proper attitudes and behaviors when planning outcomes assessment, success may elude even the best funded and well-intentioned projects. Consulting outcomes assessment literature and experts yields consensus around ten essential, intangible elements of any successful outcomes assessment endeavor.
In the earliest stages of academic advising outcomes assessment, practitioners should scan the horizon for current literature, data, and practices to build a strong foundation in assessment. Linda Suskie (2009) suggests “review[ing] published literature, search[ing] online, contact[ing] relevant professional associations, attend[ing] assessment conferences, and talk[ing] to colleagues on your campus and elsewhere” (p. 104). Outcomes assessment can feel like an unknown entity with its own language and terminology. Consulting the literature can answer many introductory questions advisors may have in the early stages of planning outcomes assessment.
For outcomes assessment to be successful and impactful, it must be not only well informed but also brave. Those performing assessment must be willing, at all turns, to embrace new approaches and ideas. Asking critical questions of an institution’s most valued programs and processes is both the challenge and opportunity of outcomes assessment. Assessment scholars Peter Hernon and Robert E. Dugan (2006) argue, “One of the challenges of outcome assessment has been to acknowledge that something that you have long done could benefit from new approaches and a different emphasis” (p. 391). Pursuing meaningful assessment results requires taking those things held in high esteem, opening them up to scrutiny, and producing results that either bolster that esteem or create an opportunity for improvement.
When reflecting on what is of most consequence to assess, scholars suggest using mission statements to craft learning outcomes. Keith Powers, Aaron Carlstrom, and Kenneth Hughey (2014) emphasize that “the mission statement serves as the guide to determine advising program learning outcomes” (p. 71–72). Through their research, these scholars have found “that this first step in programming leads to greater assessment activities” (Powers et al., 2014, p. 72). Practitioners can compare the assessment process to a road trip in this instance: the mission statement defines the end destination, and the learning outcomes provide the directions and stops along the way.
Bringing a campus community to consensus around establishing a common mission and interrogating valued programs may not be an easy feat. Often, incorporating a neutral party in the process is the best way to move forward. Karen Boston, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Programs for the Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, remembers that “having someone to facilitate and mediate from the outside—with expertise—was important” to her own campus (K. Boston, personal communication, January 3, 2017). Boston suggests taking advantage of NACADA’s Academic Advising Consultants and Speakers Service (AACSS) in the earliest stages of outcomes assessment planning, especially when multiple units are involved. For smaller projects, or when resources are low, assessors can consult faculty and staff members from peer or neighboring institutions. Neutral faculty or staff members with expertise in facilitation and assessment can help move assessment projects from ideation to action.
Assessment projects often involve many actors. For this reason, it is vital to remain flexible and compromise with stakeholders. Outcomes assessment requires cooperation and buy-in from stakeholders, so keeping them in mind is key. According to Michael Nava, Associate Dean for Student Services in University College at Texas State University, “assessment has to be beneficial to all stakeholders” (M. Nava, personal communication, January 3, 2017). Being flexible with assessment outcomes to ensure that the process is beneficial to everyone involved will help foster an amiable and collaborative environment. Furthermore, stakeholders feeling valued and appreciated can benefit the assessment project as a whole, especially when discussing data and possible programmatic changes to implement as a result.
Macro-level advising assessment will require frequent stakeholder conversations. Installing adequate leadership in the assessment project is essential to moving meetings from conversations to action. Charles Evers, the 2014-2015 chair of Texas State University’s Advising Assessment Team, advises, “Be aware [that] you will rarely have a situation where everyone agrees on the best course of action” (C. Evers, personal communication, January 4, 2017). Rather than focusing on pleasing everyone involved in the assessment project, practitioners should assure project leaders are in place to listen to stakeholder opinions, build coalitions, and maintain focus on the project’s ultimate philosophy and goals. Evers reminds, “Sometimes you just need to make a decision and move forward” (C. Evers, personal communication, January 4, 2017). When mindful and effective leadership is in place, those decisions are possible and productive.
Even with a firm foundation and strong stakeholder relationships established, project managers should avoid early overzealousness. Rich Robbins and Kathy Zarges (2011) recommend assessors “start small and have some successes” by “identify[ing] one or two desired outcomes to start” (para. 20). Practitioners can compare starting small to learning to ride a bike with training wheels. Once assessing one to two outcomes has been mastered, then it is time to remove the training wheels and take on additional outcomes. Practitioners should remember that starting small is not only safe; it is also strategic. Early assessment successes can increase buy-in from stakeholders and cultivate a culture of assessment.
Assessing learning outcomes often requires many small steps, including planning multiple methods, developing multiple instruments, and evaluating diverse data. Being intentional about inclusivity and transparency in these day-to-day assessment tasks is essential in maintaining buy-in from practitioners and hearing stakeholder positions throughout the project. Bailey Verschoyle, the 2016-2017 chair of Texas State University’s Advising Assessment Team, recommends maintaining a detailed outcomes assessment timeline and sharing it with all practitioners (B. Verschoyle, personal communication, January 4, 2017). Together with stakeholders, project leaders can create a timeline that includes all of the small, important tasks involved in an assessment project—for instance creating a website survey, purchasing survey incentives, and producing a report of survey results and analysis for stakeholders. Reviewing this timeline regularly and updating it at the beginning of each new assessment cycle assures assessment is decentralized, at best, and transparent, at least.
In the process of completing data collection and reporting results, Michael Nava recommends assuring “assessment results are equally disseminated to all units” (M. Nava, personal communication, January 3, 2017). This is key in fostering an environment where stakeholders feel involved and valued. Additionally, this practice establishes a common ground for meaningful and productive conversation. Providing results equally to all stakeholders ensures that everyone is in the same book and on the same page so that productive conversations about the data and its implications can occur.
Finally, outcomes assessment programs should prioritize regular conversations with one key group of stakeholders: academic advisors themselves. Wendy Troxel (2008) argues that, in order for program assessment to be “transparent and all-revealing” (p. 394), academic advisors need to be involved in the process. Involving advisors in the process, according to Troxel, ensures that they know that assessment is an essential part of doing the advising job well. In order to keep advisors involved in an assessment project, those directing assessment should provide opportunities for advisors to stay educated about outcomes assessment. Leadership can encourage advisors to attend assessment themed professional development workshops. Project directors can invite advisors to meetings and/or events designed to discuss institutional advising assessment. Directors could distribute an Assessment 101 module, for example, to provide advisors with key assessment terminology and institutional processes in their toolboxes before attending a meeting designed to allow them to dig deeper. Ensuring the advising community at-large has adequate outcomes assessment education keeps the conversation robust; provides meaningful contributions from the grassroots; and could bring new, talented advisors into the assessment.
Outcomes assessment is vital to the growth of academic advising. Nevertheless, establishing an assessment practice brings challenges, including resource allocation, advisor education, and stakeholder buy-in to name a few. Project managers and practitioners should employ these ten attitudes and behaviors when embarking on the assessment journey to ensure that they are charting the course toward success.
Academic Advisor II
Texas State University
Academic Advisor I
PACE Advising Services
Texas State University
Hernon, P. & Dugan, R. E. (2006). Future directions in outcomes assessment. In P. Hernon, R. E. Dugan & C. Schwartz (Eds.). Revisiting outcomes assessment in higher education (pp. 367-396). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Powers, K., Carlstrom, A., & Hughey, K. (2014). Academic advising assessment practices: Results of a national study. NACADA Journal, 34(1), 64-77
Robbins, R. & Zarges, K. M. (2011). Assessment of academic advising: A summary of the process. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Assessment-of-academic-advising.aspx
Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Troxel, W. (2008) Assessing the effectiveness of the advising program. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, T. J. Grites, & Associates (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 386-395). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Cite this article using APA style as: Haider, J., & Moir, A. (2017, September). Charting the course: Ten attitudes and behaviors essential to assessment success. Academic Advising Today, 40(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]