FAQs

Assessment is a strategic process that is part of our continual improvement. Assessment allows for evidence-based decisions about curriculum and pedagogy, programs and services, and student support. In addition, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education considers ongoing assessment a cornerstone of our accreditation.

As part of an institution-wide effort, all academic programs, co-curricular programs/units, and functional areas implement assessment and action plans. Additionally, a curriculum map, outlining how student learning outcomes are addressed throughout an academic program’s curriculum, have been created by faculty. A proposed academic program is required to prepare an assessment and action plan before it is considered for approval.

Syracuse University has always assessed, reflected on our programs, units, and services, and made changes when necessary. Before 2014, we had not documented our efforts to the degree to which is now required both for internal reporting and external verification. Documentation used in the past both for Middle States accreditation and specialized accreditation is no longer sufficient due to increased demands for accountability by the public, by both state and federal governments and by extension regional and specialized accreditation.

Recent specialized accreditation reviews of some of our programs resulted in findings of non- compliance focused on insufficient documentation of student learning outcomes assessment. Additionally, MIddle States adopted new standards that include assessment in each standard and adopted a new reporting cycle that includes annual institutional updates. Other colleges and universities in the central New York region ran into difficulty in their most recent Middle States self-studies regarding institutional effectiveness (strategic planning, program review, documentation) and student learning outcomes assessment resulting in Middle States actions of further progress reporting and ongoing monitoring of the institutions for compliance.

Assessment and evaluation use similar methods but are used for different purposes. Evaluation is a systematic process for determining “merit, worth, value or significance” (American Evaluation Association, 2014). Assessment processes are designed specifically to improve programs and services. Both terms are relevant with regard to the culture of assessment at Syracuse University. Assessment processes and outcomes at Syracuse University are intended as a structure for planning and developing improvement on a continued and incremental basis.

Assessment provides information so that academic departments, co-curricular programs/units, and functional areas can make informed decisions regarding changes. Assessment facilitates discussion between faculty and staff, within and across disciplines, about goals, collecting and sharing detailed feedback with students, and establishing a clear and effective bigger picture for individual programs and services. Assessment provides results that strengthen arguments for increased funding and resources for departments, programs, and units producing valued outcomes. Assessment informs professional development for faculty and staff, as well as changes to policies, resources, and institutional development.

For more information, please refer to:

  • Suskie, L. A. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
  • Walvoord, B. E. (2010). Assessment clear and simple: A practical guide for institutions, departments, and general education (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Assessment information is gathered and used by faculty and staff to identify action areas and guide decision-making. Assessment is a reflective process. Results are intended to provide feedback for continuous improvement of academic programs, co-curricular programs/units, and functional areas. Results are not used to evaluate individual students, faculty, or staff.

Assessment information provides means for faculty and staff to become more reflective in their practice, and ultimately to improve. The process of assessment provides a structure for setting goals and outcomes, monitoring progress, and making improvements to programs, units, and services. Each faculty and staff member plays a vital role in contributing to the success of the process.

Deans

Communicate the value of evidence-based decision-making to enhance student learning and operations in the school/college.

Establish resources to sustain the school/college’s commitment to ongoing improvement.

Form and maintain a school/college-wide committee responsible for learning outcome assessment (can be the curriculum committee).

Incorporate success outcomes that are meaningful to the school/college operations and environment into the dean’s office assessment and action plan and act on findings.

Faculty

Lead and collectively implement the academic program’s assessment and action plan including establishing learning outcomes, mapping the curriculum to the outcomes, collecting student work and data, discussing results, and acting on the findings.

When requested, provide evidence from course-level measures.

Communicate program learning outcomes and course learning objectives to students.

Empower students to be agents of their own learning by engaging them in the assessment process (e.g., surveying or discussing their learning and experiences in the program, reflecting on the relevancy of learning outcomes, analyzing and interpreting collected data).

Academic Chairs and Directors

Manage learning outcomes assessment for programs in the department and designate a faculty member (e.g., program coordinator, undergraduate director, graduate director) or faculty group to lead assessment and action plan implementation for each program.

Ensure that faculty participate in collaborative discussions about program-level learning and share responsibility for systematically collecting and reflecting on student work and other measures to support their development and achievement.

Align courses and program learning outcomes with department and institutional goals.

Students

Engage in assessment-related activities that allow them to share their perspectives and experiences (e.g., surveys, course feedback, focus groups).

Provide constructive feedback and input on assessment activities (e.g., co-creating or revising learning outcomes with faculty, assisting with rubric development, analyzing and interpreting data).

Serve on school/college, department, or program committees when requested.

Staff
Academic staff provide support to faculty as they examine student learning in the academic programs. Support may include collecting student work and other data for faculty to review, coordinating meetings for faculty to discuss student work, or preparing meeting minutes.

Staff in co-curricular and functional programs/units participate in activities such as developing learning and success outcomes, collecting evidence, discussing results, and acting on the findings. Some staff may serve as the lead on assessment activities.

Communicate about and engage student in assessment efforts.

Forum on Institutional Effectiveness (FIE) Representative

Communicate information shared at the FIE with faculty, staff, and school/college/area leaders to guide activities that support and improve teaching, learning, and internal processes.

Monitor assessment and accreditation activities in the school/college/area and point faculty, staff, and school/college/area leaders to appropriate University resources as needed.

Identify strengths and limitations of current assessment practices in the school/college/area and share insights with the FIE.

Syracuse University fully supports academic freedom as outlined in the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure:

The purpose of this statement is to promote public understanding and support of academic freedom and tenure and agreement upon procedures to ensure them in colleges and universities. Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.

Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning. It carries with it duties correlative with rights.

As noted by AAUP, assessment is a core faculty responsibility:

Assessment of student learning and reform of teaching and academic programs are core academic activities. As such, the AAUP sees them as being the primary responsibility of faculty—individually and collectively. In the classroom, a core element of academic freedom is the autonomy of the individual faculty member to determine what and how to teach. At the same time, the AAUP emphasizes the collective responsibility of the faculty as a whole for academic programs, suggesting that an academic department, for instance, can adopt pedagogical or curricular standards that colleagues teaching the course(s) need to adopt. …

Assessment of student learning outcomes, programs, units, and/or services is in no way tied to faculty/staff performance evaluation. Assessment should not be used as an evaluation of an individual faculty or staff member.

No. Assessment is about determining what is working and not working. If something is not working well or satisfactory in the academic program, co-curricular program/unit, or functional area and it is evidenced in the assessment results, it means that actions should be taken to ensure successful student learning or increased performance in the future.

To effectively reflect on and, when appropriate, take actions to enhance the quality of programs and services, it is essential that assessment be ongoing. Some programs/units  assess all of their outcomes each year, while others will assess one or two outcomes each year over a four-year cycle. It is important to sustain a well-designed and manageable assessment plan and process to inform decision-making on an ongoing basis.

Direct measures should be the primary means of demonstrating that student learning outcomes have been achieved. Direct assessment of student outcomes can be examined using embedded course assignments, capstone projects, portfolios, field experiences, performances, theses, dissertations, etc. If an academic program uses published exams, such as exams for licensure or certification, as a requirement for completion of the program, the exam results can be used as a direct measure.

Indirect measures operate best as a support to the information gathered through direct measures. Alone, they are not sufficient to demonstrate the achievement of student learning outcomes. Indirect information is often gathered through surveys, interviews, and focus groups. It reflects the opinions and perceptions about a student’s learning outcome. Indirect measures can also include course grades and grade distributions, retention and graduation rates, and placement rates.

No. Different approaches are used depending on the nature of the academic program. Faculty choose which direct and indirect measures to utilize, how evidence will be collected, and what the results mean for the academic program. Based on their findings, faculty determine appropriate actions for the academic program.

A course grade may include aspects that are not necessarily related to student learning in the course, such as attendance. While attendance may impact student learning, it is not directly related to what the student learned. Additionally, a course grade often reflects progress toward many learning outcomes and is a compilation of the student progress toward all of these outcomes. Course grades can be useful as an indirect measure of student learning if they are primarily based on student work related to the learning outcome, such as exams, papers, and presentations.

No, there are several ways to assess student learning. Rubrics are only one tool faculty can utilize to analyze student assignments. Faculty can also utilize checklists, observation/holistic guides, faculty notes, or a department-wide tool. Many faculty find that rubrics simplify and streamline their assessment processes. Having a system is usually quite helpful, but faculty choose the structure and methods of the system.

No. Faculty determine the best approach for their academic programs. For some departments, numbers and graphics are how they choose to examine their programs. For other departments, a qualitative approach resulting in narratives works better.

Direct measures should be the primary means of demonstrating that student learning outcomes have been achieved. Direct assessment of student outcomes can be examined using embedded course assignments, capstone projects, portfolios, field experiences, performances, theses, dissertations, etc. If an academic program uses published exams, such as exams for licensure or certification, as a requirement for completion of the program, the exam results can be used as a direct measure.

Indirect measures operate best as a support to the information gathered through direct measures. Alone, they are not sufficient to demonstrate the achievement of student learning outcomes. Indirect information is often gathered through surveys, interviews, and focus groups. It reflects the opinions and perceptions about a student learning outcome. Indirect measures can also include course grades and grade distributions, retention and graduation rates, and placement rates.

Yes and no. Student responses to course feedback can be used as an indirect measure (i.e., in support of the direct measures of student work) if they are asked to rate their knowledge and skills and reflect on what they have learned in the course. Student perceptions can be an important contribution to the assessment process.

No. Assessment of student learning outcomes is conducted at the program level.

Over the University’s four-year assessment cycle, academic programs, co-curricular programs/units, and functional areas assess each outcome in their assessment and action plans at least once. Annually, faculty and staff use the University’s assessment management system, Planning & Self-Study, to document the following for each outcome(s) assessed:

  • Measures and targets or criteria for success
  • Results and analysis/interpretation
  • Actions planned or taken

Annual reporting is due December 1.

The Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment (IEA) Assessment Working Team is available for consultation and can work with departments and units to develop and implement assessment and action plans. Email the AWT at assessment@syr.edu. Our website also includes internal and external resources on assessment and institutional effectiveness.

No, the role of the Assessment Working Team is to provide support to programs, departments, and units through workshopsconsultationsuseful resources. It is in the interest of each program, department, or unit to conduct their own assessment and use the results as a way to improve student learning, processes, or services.

IEA does not propose, request, or make any changes to program curriculum, sequencing, structure, or teaching techniques. IEA does not conduct assessments of programs and units. The purpose of IEA is to support faculty and staff in the systematic assessment of our programs and services through consultations, workshops, documentation tools, and other useful resources. IEA conducts one assessment per year – the assessment of the office itself. As noted above, faculty have the core responsibility for “identifying student learning outcomes, conducting those assessments, and revising curriculum accordingly.”

Student Learning Outcomes Assessment 

Assessment of student learning outcomes is an ongoing reflective process conducted by and for the faculty. Assessment asks (1) What skills, knowledge, attitudes or dispositions do we want our students to acquire by the end of their program of study? and (2) What is our evidence that students have acquired those skills, knowledge, attitudes or dispositions? As noted above, different approaches can be taken and findings are used by the faculty to inform decision-making for the program. Programs  assess all outcomes within a four-year timeframe.

University and Unit Strategic Planning 

A systematic 3-5 year plan aligning with the academic strategic plan which examines the institution’s environment and operating context to identify goals, objectives and strategies (actions) to guide decision making and resource allocation. The strategic plan details how the institution fulfills its mission and works toward achieving its vision. The strategic plan’s operationalization is guided by an implementation and monitoring plan. The institution’s assessment results and program review contribute information to the strategic plan’s implementation. Schools and colleges  also undertake strategic planning.

Program Review 

The purpose of program review is to craft and maintain a set of high-quality academic programs that support our educational objectives for students while making effective use of our institutional resources. If we do this well, we will maintain high-quality programs that are consistent with our mission, sought by students, and sustainable. Academic programs are reviewed for their quality, demand, cost- effectiveness, and centrality to mission. Judgments on these criteria occur through a faculty-centric process where disciplinary and program experts evaluate the available information about a program. The criteria are considered holistically: For example, a small, high-quality program that is central to a unit’s history and identity would not be judged adversely because it is small. Program review occurs on a four-year cycle. To simplify data collection, all of the programs in a department may be reviewed in the same year, but program review is not departmental review.

University and Specialized Accreditation 

Syracuse University, as well as some of our school/college and individual programs and units, are accredited. A full listing is posted on the IEA website.

Syracuse University is accredited by the Middle State Commission on Higher Education. Middle States “…accreditation is an expression of confidence in an institution’s mission and goals, its performance, and its resources. An institution is accredited when the educational community has verified that its goals are achieved through self-regulation and peer review. The extent to which each educational institution accepts and fulfills the responsibilities inherent in the process of accreditation is a measure of its commitment to striving for and achieving excellence in its endeavors.” The University completed its most recent self-study and hosted a peer review site visit team in March 2018.