Book by Linda Suskie
Review by Jamie Reynolds
Student Advising Center, Undergraduate Studies
Kent State University

The idea of conducting assessment activities can be intimidating and overwhelming.  Depending on the culture of one’s institution, department, or staff, assessment efforts can encounter potential barriers, such as lack of support, a stagnate work environment or staff, or limited availability of time and funding.  These factors, in addition to others, can terminate assessment efforts before they have even commenced.  In my opinion, assessment should not be viewed as a threat.  Rather, assessment is a means to ensure the achievement of the previously determined learning goals of the services, programs, and courses offered at our institution.  Assessment should be regarded as a process to measure student learning outcomes and to improve the quality of the existing services, programs, and courses.  

As illustrated by Suskie, higher education institutions are forced to be accountable for the standards set at their individual universities and colleges.  Rather than assuming effectiveness of a program, we are being asked to demonstrate the achievement of learning goals.  As academic advisors, we need to identify whether or not the services and programs we offer are truly impacting student learning.  It is not enough to say that the advising needs of students are being met because this is the technique that has been utilized for many years.  How do we know our advising strategies are effective?  Data collected from an assessment can assist in gathering a better understanding of the needs of our student population and can provide a direction to enhance the quality of our services.

Suskie provides a practical framework for the creation and implementation of an assessment plan.  Throughout this reading, I realized the value in the steps taken prior to actually conducting the assessment.  As stated by Suskie, conducting assessment activities will be more fruitful “if you first plan your work by considering a number of questions, including why you’re assessing, what and how you’ll assess, what support structures will be provided, and how you’ll monitor and evaluate assessment activities” (p. 51).  Application based examples at the conclusion of every chapter provided me the opportunity to utilize the knowledge acquired throughout the text in potential real-life scenarios encountered within higher education.  The immense amount of tables and figures offered a reference tool for good practices.  Suskie is thorough in explaining all aspects of the assessment process, in addition to the possible obstacles that could be encountered after the data has been collected and the results have been analyzed.

Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide is a useful resource for all members of the higher education community, regardless of status or experience within the institution.  There are chapters which are heavily geared towards faculty members, offering various assessment tools, rubrics, and assignments attempting to measure student learning.  This book can be helpful for the assessment novice eager to gain a thorough understanding of how to approach assessment.  It can also be beneficial for a more experienced professional interested in affirming that successful practices of assessment efforts are implemented.  Faculty members, administrators, and staff alike can utilize the step-by-step advice to positively impact student learning throughout the entire institution.

The book was lengthy, but I found it to be a good read.  I was willing to endure the length of the text due to the knowledge and clarification obtained.  I feel as though I can now take an active role in the assessment activities within my institution.  In turn, I can make a favorable contribution to the health of the institution, while enriching the experiences of the student population.

Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide. (2004). Book by Linda Suskie. Review by Jamie Reynolds. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 331 pp., $40.00. ISBN # 1-882982-71-1
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