Transform your assessment process

For many campuses across the country, the word “assessment” can still make educators shift in their seats or even shrug their shoulders. How can we transform the culture of assessment from dull and lifeless to vibrant and refreshing?

At Columbia-Greene Community College in the cultural community of Hudson, New York, we have uncovered a formula that can be used by other colleges eager to bring their assessment practices to life. The formula has evolved into what we now call the Rule of Five.

When it comes to building buy-in, Columbia-Greene uses the Rule of Five to maintain a lively culture of assessment across campus. Try sticking to these five rules when establishing a new assessment process or breathing new life into aged practices.

Rule 1: Keep it simple

Who said that assessment needed to involve 10-page reports and complicated verbiage? At Columbia-Greene, departments are asked to assess one goal per year, and their entire plan can fit on one page. In fact, we insist that it fits onto one page. Only ask for information that can, and will, be used. When it comes to building a mature and meaningful assessment process, less is more.

Rule 2: Establish a brand

Not all assessment efforts require expensive software. Even if using homegrown methods, like us, to collect and analyze assessment data, make sure there is consistency. Establish a brand for your assessment tools by embedding your college logo into all forms and handouts. Update your assessment forms with drop-down menus and check-boxes using content controls in Microsoft Word. Establish a brand and stick to it.

Rule 3: Tell a story

The true lifeblood of assessment is a success story. Think of charts and graphs as merely the cover to a great book — because hiding behind these numbers is a story just waiting to be told. If student outcomes have improved in a lab-based science course as a result of a new team learning structure, for instance, ask faculty to reflect on how this finding could inform other courses in the future. For service area assessment, if you’ve discovered that a new security training program has improved student opinions about their personal safety on campus, tell the story. Surely, share the noticeable increase in survey scores, but bring those numbers to life by inviting students to share their thoughts about campus safety. Ask for a quote from your director of security explaining how assessment has informed the direction of this new training program. Numbers are important, but stories always trump data. As Brené Brown has famously said, “Maybe stories are just data with a soul.”

This article comes from the current issue of the American Association of Community Colleges’ Community College Journal.

Rule 4: Celebrate success

Just this past year, we awarded our first-ever Assessy Award to honor and recognize outstanding work in student learning outcomes and service area assessment. Ask your campus leaders if you can present the award during an all-college meeting to jumpstart the new year. It is always important to recognize the hard work of colleagues, especially when their work contributes to the improvement of student learning, campus programs or the institution as a whole.

Rule 5: Motivate from the heart

Although accreditation requirements definitely helped to advance the assessment movement, conducting assessment for the sole purpose of meeting those requirements does not produce a culture of acceptance. Worse yet, it is unsustainable. The most meaningful assessment is produced by those who are motivated from the heart. Enliven the process with excitement and celebration. Assessment is not something we do to maintain compliance. We do it to provide all students with the very best we can offer.

Misplaced a recent CC Journal? Read entire issues online.

About the Author

Casey O'Brien
is director of institutional effectiveness at Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson, New York.