Linda Suskie

  A Common Sense Approach to Assessment & Accreditation

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Balancing regional and specialized accreditation demands

Posted on December 22, 2017 at 7:15 AM

Virtually all U.S. accreditors (and some state agencies) require the assessment of student learning, but the specifics--what, when, how--can vary significantly. How can programs with multiple accreditations (say regional and specialized) serve two or more accreditation masters without killing themselves in the process?


I recently posted my thoughts on this on the ASSESS listserv, and a colleague asked me to make my contribution into a blog post as well.


Bottom line: I advocate a flexible approach.


Start by thinking about why your institution's assessment coordinator or committee asks these programs for reports on student learning assessment. This leads to the question of why they're asking everyone to assess student learning outcomes.


The answer is that we all want to make sure our students are learning what we think is most important, and if we're not, we want to take steps to try to improve that learning. Any reporting structure should be designed to help faculty and staff achieve those two purposes--without being unnecessarily burdensome to anyone involved. In other words, reports should be designed primarily to help decision-makers at your college.


At this writing, I'm not aware of any regional accreditor that mandates that every program's assessment efforts and results must be reported on a common institution-wide template. When I was an assessment coordinator, I encouraged flexibility in report formats (and deadlines, for that matter). Yes, it was more work for me and the assessment committee to review apples-and-oranges reports but less work and more meaningful for faculty--and I've always felt they're more important than me.


So with this as a framework, I would suggest sitting down with each program with specialized accreditation and working out what's most useful for them.


  • Some programs are doing for their specialized accreditor exactly what your institution and your regional accreditor want. If so, I'm fine with asking for a cut-and-paste of whatever they prepare for their accreditor.
  • Some programs are doing for their specialized accreditor exactly what your institution and your regional accreditor want, but only every few years, when the specialized review takes place. In these cases, if the last review was a few years ago, I think it's appropriate to ask for an interim update.
  • Some programs assess certain learning goals for their specialized accreditor but not others that either the program or your institution views as important. For example, some health/medical accreditors want assessments of technical skills but not "soft" skills such as teamwork and patient interactions. In these cases, you can ask for a cut-and-paste of the assessments done for the specialized accreditor but then an addendum of the additional learning goals.
  • At least a few specialized accreditors expect student learning outcomes to be assessed but not that the results be used to improve learning. In these cases, you can ask for a cut-and-paste of the assessments done but then an addendum on how the results are being used.
  • Some specialized accreditors, frankly, aren't particularly rigorous in their expectations for student learning assessment. I've seen some, for example, that seem happy with surveys of student satisfaction or student self-ratings of their skills. Programs with these specialized accreditations need to do more if their assessment is to be meaningful and useful.


Again, this flexible approach meant more work for me, but I always felt faculty time was more precious than mine, so I always worked to make their jobs as easy as possible and their work as useful and meaningful as possible.

Categories: Accreditation

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