Linda Suskie

 A Common Sense Appr​oach to Assessment in Higher Education


Overcoming barriers to using assessment results

Posted on June 20, 2015 at 8:40 AM

In my June 6 blog, I identified several barriers to using the assessment evidence we’ve amassed. How can we overcome these barriers? I don’t have a magic answer—what works at one college may not work at another—but here are some ideas. Keep in mind that I’m talking only about barriers to using assessment results, not barriers to getting people to do assessment, which is a whole different ball of wax, as my grandmother used to say.

Define satisfactory results. There’s a seven-step process to do this, which I laid out in my March 23 blog.


Share assessment results clearly and readily. I’m a big fan of simple bar graphs showing the proportions of students who earned each rubric rating on each criterion. I like to use what I call “traffic light” color coding: students with unsatisfactory results are coded red, those with satisfactory results are coded yellow, and those with exemplary results are coded green. Both good results and areas that need improvement pop out at readers.


Nurture a culture of evidence-based change. Institutional leaders need to create a culture that encourages innovation, including the willingness to take some degree of risk in trying new things that might not work. Indeed Michael Meotti just published a LinkedIn post on seven attributes of successful higher education leaders, one of which is to support risk-taking.

In my book Five Dimensions of Quality: A Common Sense Guide to Accreditation and Accountability, I explain that concrete, tangible incentives, recognition, and rewards can help nurture such a culture.


  • Offer a program of mini-grants that are open only to faculty who have unsatisfactory assessment results and want to improve them.
  • Include in the performance evaluation criteria of vice presidents and deans the expectation that they build a culture of evidence in their units.
  • Include in faculty review criteria the expectation that they use student learning assessment evidence from their classes to reflect on and improve their own teaching.
  • Give budget priority to budget requests that are supported by systematic evidence. For significant proposals, such as for a new program or service, ask for a “business plan” comparable to what an investor might want to see from an entrepreneur.
  • Make pervasive shortcomings an institutional priority. For example, if numerous academic programs are dissatisfied with their students’ writing skills, set a university goal to make next year “the year of writing,” with an investment in professional development on teaching and assessing writing, speakers or consultants, faculty retreats to rethink curricula and their emphasis on developing writing skills, and a fresh look at support systems to help faculty teach and assess writing. As I noted in my last blog post, this means a real investment of resources, and this cannot happen without leadership commitment to a culture of evidence-based improvement.


I’ll be talking about the first two of these strategies—defining satisfactory results and sharing results clearly and readily-- at two upcoming events: Taskstream’s CollabEx Live! in New York City on June 22 and LiveText’s Assessment & Collaboration Conference in Nashville on July 14. I hope to see you!

Categories: Upcoming events, Sharing & using results