Marquette Warrior: Marquette and “Outcomes Assessment:” Time to Come Clean

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Marquette and “Outcomes Assessment:” Time to Come Clean

For over two years, until the process was halted a few months ago, Marquette planned and implemented “outcomes assessment:” the process where faculty had to prove to University bureaucrats that their students were actually learning something.

This misbegotten enterprise was controversial from the start with faculty (especially in Political Science, but including, for example, former Business School Dean Thomas Bausch) condemning it.

The stick the Administration used to beat down dissent was the claim that the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools was demanding assessment, and that Marquette had to comply to avoid losing accreditation.

But when the North Central Association came to Marquette, they were underwhelmed. Indeed, one member of the team they sent told a University official that the failure to do assessment properly has left Marquette “a step away from losing accreditation.”

Their report stated:

It is the Team’s considered opinion that MU has not demonstrated sufficient progress towards the integration of assessment into the culture of the university. . . . The 1993 Report of a Visit stated: “Marquette University has made good progress in developing its plan for outcomes assessment. . . . While the progress is entirely satisfactory, the team notes that outcome assessment has yet to be linked to planning and that in some instancies outcomes measures appear to be related more closely to available instruments than to the objectives of the program the measures are intended to address” (p. 46). In the opinion of the 2004 Team, MU has not continued the progress noted by the 1993 Team, nor has MU demonstrated a university-wide commitment to assessment since the last comprehensive visit. (“Assurance Section, Report of a Comprehensive Evaluation Visit,” p. 19).
Then later:
Relatedly, tests are being administered and reports generated. However the Team did not find that they are not [sic] being used to assess Core Curriculum effectiveness, nor did the Team find clear standards for administrators to use in assuring implementation of the Core Curriculum.

There also seems to be some question as to the roles of the University Assessment Committee and the Core Curriculum Review Committee. Both have focused on the Core Curriculum. Furthermore, the process of assessing the Core Curriculum focuses on course evaluation. The Team did not find a plan for assessing the impact of the core. (op. cit., p. 20)
Translation: you have been spinning your wheels. You have accomplished next to nothing.

How did Marquette screw up? By focusing on “course based assessment” – harassing individual faculty – rather than a broader assessment of the Core Curriculum, or particular majors or the entire Marquette experience. The report continues:

Assessment of the Core Curriculum, as well as assessment of undergraduate and graduate majors will be expected by the Higher Learning Commission. It is suggested that the focus be switched from extensive course assessment to a focus on the nine knowledge areas. This could involve comparing entering freshmen performance tot hat of juniors who have completed the core. There are standardized tests that could be used for this purpose. (“Advancement Section, Report of a Comprehensive Evaluation Visit,” p. 29)
We think it extremely arrogant of the North Central Association to try to dictate educational policy to Marquette. The “evaluation team” they sent consisted of people no more distinguished than many Marquette faculty, and the institutions they represented were mostly less academically distinguished than Marquette.

But if Marquette is going to “cave” to those folks, it should at least give them what they want, rather than squander huge resources giving them something they don’t want.

But what we got was a huge fiasco, consuming thousands of hours of faculty time, causing a huge amount of dissatisfaction, and convincing a lot of faculty that the administration is stupid, or malevolent, or both.

In the wake of this farce, some serious questions need to be asked.

  • Why in the world didn’t somebody simply ask the North Central Association what kind of assessment they wanted?
  • Who in the Marquette administration gave the people running the assessment process the authority to run roughshod over the faculty?
  • Was “course based” assessment used because a more valid process would have cost some money, and it was possible to impose the burden on faculty at “no cost?” In other words, was faculty time being given zero value?
  • What bureaucratic interests distorted the process? Was much of it driven by the desire of certain people to fortify their résumés with the “implementation” of a trendy new “initiative?”
So far, the Administration has failed to grapple with these questions. It’s as though only some minor little misunderstanding happened.

The Administration should forthrightly admit “we screwed up.” And an apology to faculty would help a lot too.


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