National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment |

National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Example of Good Assessment Practice: Washington State University



Hutchings, P. (2019, February). Washington State University: Building Institutional Capacity for Ongoing Improvement (NILOA Examples of Good Assessment Practice). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

Assessment gets faculty to “think bigger”—not just about “my course but about our curriculum.” Assessment has the power to prompt a process of stepping back, asking questions, examining evidence, seeing teaching and learning as sites for inquiry.
-- Faculty and Staff members at Washington State University

Washington State University:
Building Institutional Capacity for Ongoing Improvement

Washington State University (WSU) was founded in 1890 as the state’s land-grant institution. WSU now comprises eleven colleges, 63 doctoral programs, 79 master’s degree programs, and over 60 undergraduate degrees enrolling 30,000-plus students. WSU was selected as a case study site because of its promising approach to student learning outcomes assessment in the often challenging context of a large, highly decentralized research university. That approach is characterized by a deliberately incremental and iterative process, moving the institution step-by-step toward habits, practices, and policies that support ongoing educational improvement. The aim of this case study is to provide a window into what it takes to support, scaffold, and build capacity for meaningful student learning outcomes assessment in a large, complex institutional setting. The focus is on assessment in the context of undergraduate education.

Link to the full report here.

Lessons from Washington State University

1. Move carefully, create a roadmap, provide support all along the way, put a focus on improvement…and be patient. Assessment, as ATL director Green notes, must be “right sized,” “based on reasonable expectations and available faculty time and resources.”        

2. Effective assessment meets people where they are. Progress is much more likely when support is tailored to the particular context and culture. This means attention to faculty time and resources, but it also points to the importance of disciplinary norms and values, especially as related to questions about the kinds of evidence that can catalyze constructive conversation and action. WSU’s Office of Assessment of Teaching and Learning—with its department-based consulting and mentoring model—provides one example of how such an approach can be shaped and managed.

3. Assessment is about people working together toward shared goals. Of course it means getting and using evidence about student learning. But it’s also about relationships, trust, and building communities of reflective conversation where informed colleagues can have sustained exchanges about how to improve the learning experience of their students. These kinds of results should be valued equally with results in the form of reported data.

4. Assessment works best where there is clarity about roles and responsibilities. For most academics, assessing student learning is new. It is important, then, to have clarity about who needs to do what in their respective roles and contexts. What is the role of the department chair? What can a dean do to encourage meaningful assessment? How about faculty and students? Perhaps trustees? Spelling out their respective assessment roles and responsibilities, as WSU has done, is time well spent.

5. Assessment is intellectual work worth sharing and recognizing. Drawing on faculty’s habits and values as scholars, it means asking questions, gathering evidence, making meaning of that evidence, and working toward positive changes. Accordingly, such work can and should be visible, recognized, and rewarded. This can take different forms. For individual faculty at WSU, assessment can now count as teaching. Departments are also being recognized for their assessment efforts and achievements. But it’s possible to imagine other ways to signal its value as well: travel funds to participate in conferences and seminars that focus on teaching, learning, and assessment; campus-based events showcasing departmental examples of evidence-based improvements in student learning; or support for the scholarship of teaching and learning.

6. Assessment means living with and managing competing goals. Institutions need to be able to tell their story—with data—in ways that speak to a diverse set of stakeholders. At the same time, improvement is likely only where faculty feel free and safe to explore areas that need further development. The challenge is for institutional leaders to hold programs accountable while also supporting meaningful and honest inquiry.