Emory Report
March 2, 2009
Volume 61, Number 22



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March 2
, 2009

Assessing student learning

From Staff Reports

There is a growing national conversation about quality and accountability in higher education. How do we know what students are learning? How can we identify areas that need improvement? And how can we recognize great teaching?

Emory is taking steps to address these questions by developing a new student learning outcomes process. This effort will help faculty to document what students are learning and identify areas that faculty see in need of improvement.

Led by Provost Earl Lewis, the initiative will develop a student learning outcomes program this spring for all undergraduate programs for implementation this fall. Student learning outcome processes will eventually be developed for the graduate and professional programs and schools.

Why now?

“The assessment environment has changed profoundly in the last few years,” says Lewis. “This offers us an exceptional opportunity to work together as a University to document what and how our students are learning, and contribute to the national understanding on what makes for excellence in higher education.”

“This national conversation has sometimes been contentious,” Lewis adds. “So it is critical that we develop assessment standards that recognize the authentic teaching practices and goals of individual faculty as well as departments and disciplines.

Partly reflecting this new interest in assessment, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the regional body for the accreditation of Emory University, has added emphasis on assessing teaching outcomes since Emory’s last accreditation affirmation in 2003.

In the SACS fifth year interim report due in March 2010, Emory must document that assessment of student learning takes place in all educational programs, and then demonstrate the establishment of assessment initiatives in both educational programs and administrative and educational support services for its full SACS review in 2014. Therefore, the assessment initiative at Emory will dovetail with the timeline for the SACS accreditation process.

As President Jim Wagner notes, however, the new SACS emphasis on assessment should not be simply seen as a new requirement, but as an opportunity for Emory to develop processes to advance its teaching.

“Of course the reaffirmation of Emory’s accreditation by SACS is critical to our mission, because that certification is essential for many of our students to enter the next phase of their careers,” says Wagner. “But more than earning a seal of approval, we hope to learn the best practices for assessing the difference Emory makes in preparing engaged scholars for the work of positive transformation in the world.”

Concurring on this critical point, Emory College Dean Robert Paul adds: “We see the upcoming SACS review as an opportunity to decide for ourselves on an assessment process that we feel comfortable with and from which we will get real value. We all want to deliver the best education we can, and we have the opportunity to design a process that tells us things we genuinely want to know and to use that information to continue to improve and enhance our curricula.”

Please see the March 16 issue of Emory Report for how the new assessment initiative will proceed.