A Message from Academic Affairs
Assessment and the Intellectual “Health” of Augustana
Faculty members sometimes ask why the college encourages them to do assessment when they already do careful assessment each and every term as they grade and respond to student papers and tests. What do we gain by assessing how well we are doing at the department and institution-wide level?
A recent article in The New Yorker , “The Bell Curve,” offers one possible answer. I think you'll find the article, which discusses two hospitals' attempts to improve the care of children with cystic fibrosis, to be interesting, apart from any implications it may have for our assessment work here. It's a good read.
I leave it to you to decide how much the ideas set forth in “The Bell Curve” apply to a college. The most obvious objection: Aren't the measures for success more clearly defined for disease treatment than for what constitutes a well-educated college graduate? And surely there are other objections you can raise as well.
That said, what I take away from the article is a more general observation: that different organizations, in which dedicated and concerned people are all working hard to do the very best they can, can still end up with very different results. (Would you rather have results like those of Dr. Matthews, whose staff managed to achieve higher rates of success with seriously ill children even as the national average rose, or those of the other hospitals?)
Assessment at the department and institutional level can help us see where we are doing a good job for our students and where we need to improve. Such insights are harder to gain when we pay attention primarily to how well we are doing in our own classroom, as important as that is. If assessment shows us some of our shortcomings, then the truly interesting work begins as we seek ways to improve the education we provide for our students.
Associate Dean for Assessment and Grants