Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What does program assessment look like?

Here are some photos of members of the math SAC working together, using a process offered by the PALs -- Program Assessment for Learning. The PALs are a sub-group of the Learning Assessment Council that can help SACs move from just tabulating assessment results to figuring out what those results mean about the quality of your program, and especially where the good job you are doing now can get even better..... This is what our accrediting agency wants of us -- not just jumping through ever more meaningless hoops, and the filing of ever more silly reports. Instead, SAC members have the power to create an assessment instrument that is designed to answer your own questions about how effectively you are advancing student learning.

Want to schedule a session of the PALs for your SAC? email Paul Wild at or Sally Earll at

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

data-driven educational practices

Michele Marden is a Math Instructor at Sylvania, and a member of the Learning Assessment Council

Study Skills and Self Regulated Learning: Can students self assess? Can we help them do so?

Occasionally a student asks me for advice about how to study math. My responses until very recently were along the lines of “work more problems” or even the less specific “study more.”

Recently I have had a realization: I don’t know how to help my students overcome their struggles because I never had significant struggles with math and I have had precious little training (ie, none) in how one best learns math. This is complicated by the fact that I enjoy math and understand its value while many of my students do not. It is embarrassing that it took nearly 13 years for this realization to solidify!

Last year on a five-hour flight back to Portland, I read a study skills book. It discussed general studying tips and different studying methods for various subjects. Some of the suggestions were obvious, others were not. All went beyond my most common suggestions of “work more problems” or “study more.” None of them were ideas that I shared regularly with students, until now. For my lower level classes, I incorporate “study skills 101 for math.” Sharing study skills has certainly helped some of my individual students, but I always wonder if there is something more I could do…

At a recent math conference, I attended a session about Self Regulated Learning (SRL) given by Lawrence Morales at Seattle Central Community College. SRL goes way beyond my study skills 101. From my brief introduction at this session, I believe that the SRL helps students recognize and handle lack of motivation issues and also gives them tools to evaluate their learning. Note: SRL can be used for all disciplines/programs.

Self Regulated Learning might be a tool for faculty to help students recognize their lack of progress (or lack of motivation) through a framework that would let them self-correct before they are so discouraged that they quit college. Morales described incorporating SRL in his classes as peeling an onion: It has to be an ongoing process where students are trained to self-regulate as opposed to discussing it in one or two class meetings.

SRL is research based and claims to increase student learning. Below is some of the data analysis from a slide Morales shared at the conference session from a CUNY study.

[Data is from slide 16 of the powerpoint from the session. See for the entire powerpoint given by Morales.]

The CUNY Study: Results

Developmental Students

Self Regulated Learning


Completed Course



Passed final exam



Passed course



Passed COMPASS post-test



Intro Math Students

Self Regulated Learning


Passed final exam



Passed course



Passed COMPASS post-test



Intriguing results!!!

Maybe this will help me give some additional support that will help struggling students succeed.

Suggested readings by Morales:

  • How Learning Works by Ambrose
  • Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Becoming a self-regulated learner: An overview. Theory Into Practice, 41(2), 64-70.

If you know about SRL or are interested in chatting about it, please post a comment or contact me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Kendra and Shirlee invite you to help figure something out!

Kendra Cawley is PCC's dean of instructional support and Shirlee Geiger is current chair of the faculty learning assessment council

Here is a question you might find interesting:

Should all PCC SACs be responsible for assessing for all PCC core outcomes?

Background for the question
Last fall, PCC SACs were asked to create 2 year plans for program assessment. Lower Division Collegiate SACs were asked to focus on the core outcomes, and assess for communication and one other (of their choosing.) Career Technical SACs were asked to pick their "biggest" degree or certificate, map the degree/cert outcomes to the core outcomes and then assess their students for the degree/cert outcomes. 93% of all SACs filed their two-year assessment plans in time to get feedback from the peer review session held in November. 40 faculty from across the district met to talk over the plans they had been assigned to read, in teams that spanned all our common divides -- LDC and CTE, full time and adjunct, big campus and smaller campus.

In that session, as at other points in the process this past year, faculty asked the question:
do all SACs have to assess for all core outcomes?

One reason for answering that question with a resounding "Yes!" is that the core outcomes are what we all have in common - they are what define our shared purpose and our ultimate promise to students, the community, and the tax payers who have supported us so generously by passing our bond proposals.

One reason for answering with a resounding "No!" is that the very point of locating program assessment in the SACs is the firm conviction of members of the Learning Assessment Council that assessment activities must be meaningful -- and the only hope for assessments to be meaningful is that they be created by faculty, based on what we want to know. If a given SAC doesn't see itself as teaching to a particular core outcome, assessing for it would just be silly and a waste of everyone's time.

Or maybe your answer isn’t so resounding, but conditional, or situational, or even uncertain. Tell us why.

You will have a chance to hear more about this issue at the 3rd Annual Assessment Circus, coming to Cascade Campus on May 20th, 9 SM to noon. Anyone who pre-registers will be sent a follow up survey to record their preference. (A later follow-up will go to all faculty, but the results of the "informed" group will be tallied separately.) You can also post your ideas here, by using the comments feature....

We hope to see you there!

Shirlee and Kendra

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Assessing for Excellence by Alexander Astin

by Shirlee

An institution's assessment practices are a reflection of its values.

I came across this statement -- offered as "a basic premise of this work" -- in the opening pages of the book Assessment for Excellence, by Alexander Astin. There is lots and lots and lots (and lots) of stuff written about assessment these days, so it takes something catchy to keep me reading. I am a values-driven sort of gal, so the idea that we can tell what someone cares about in education, by looking at how they do assessment -- well, it kept me reading.

Astin says that the word "assessment" covers two very different activities.

The first is basically a kind of measuring. He says most faculty measure things as a form of record keeping -- because they are required to do so as part of their job. We give tests, and record the scores, and are thereby able to calculate grades and turn them in..... This is assessing as measuring.

The second assessing activity requires using the measurements for individual and institutional improvement. In this activity, we ask what to make of what we measured. What does it mean? This is inherently evaluative, and requires a clear-eyed understanding of basic educational purposes and motives.

Many SACs have gathered their items to measure, at this point in the annual assessment process. Some have already done their measuring. If assessing were just measuring, we would record the numbers (as the good record-keepers we are), and move on to something else. But we are now asked to turn to the deeper, more important aspect of assessment -- asking what the measurements mean, as we keep a focused eye on the point of all our work: student learning.

Astin also contrasts three different ways of understanding "excellence in education."

(i) He says some people think the best colleges are the most resource-rich. They have beautiful campuses, hefty endowments, big sports stadiums and incredible labs... and with these resources, they attract the students with the highest scores, and then charge them a hefty price.

(ii) He says the second notion of "excellence" leads to roughly the same listing of "best to worst" -- but based on the idea of "reputation." The schools that attract the most talent (and can thereby turn away the most talent) are the best by a reputational standard.

(iii) But the best way to measure "excellence" in education (according to Astin) is neither via resources nor reputation. He says what matters is "the development of talent." Those institutions that lead to the most actualization of high potential are the best.

Here at PCC, we are asking faculty to develop their skills not just in measuring and record-keeping, but in evaluating what they have measured. What do our scores say about how we are doing by our students? How can we use these results to serve our students even better?

In this, faculty will need to develop more meaningful talents than those of keeping good records. We must, in collaboration, look deeply at our measurements as searchers-after-the-meaning. The meaning that matters is the meaning that helps us excel... Even as we develop new talents (beyond record keeping!) in ourselves, we will be finding ways to better develop the talents of our students.

How we do assessment says who we are and what we care about, says Astin. Like him, I care about people becoming their very best selves... And, following his lead, I like what our assessment process at PCC says about who we are.

Who are we?

We are the ones working hard to develop the talents most needed for our troubled and complex world, so that the life of those who come after us will be better for us having been here... We are working hard to make sure we do this job, and we do it well. We are assessing for excellence. Just like Astin says we should....

Thank you for all you do....