Western will test seniors

Joe Lord

Students won’t be the only folks tested on the Hill this year.

Western is requiring all departments to begin assessing their effectiveness in preparation for a 2005 review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the regional collegiate accreditation body.

As a result, some graduating students will find themselves taking assessments this spring to gauge how much they have learned while at Western, said Rhetta Poe, co-chairman of the SACS review project committee.

Every academic program will be charged with creating its own form of assessment for each major, Poe said, which may also include portfolios and performance exhibitions.

“We’re not assessing the students,” she said. “We’re assessing the program.”

Poe said not all graduating students will participate in the assessments – some bigger programs might instead choose to select a sample of students to take the tests.

Provost Barbara Burch said Western’s move to formalize its assessment

process is not just another step for SACS accreditation.

“On one hand it’s important for SACS accreditation,” she said. “On the other hand it’s just plain important.”

Poe said assessments will be used to better the university’s programs by allowing them to identify their strengths and weaknesses.

Departments would use the collected information from the assessments to improve their programs – a SACS requirement, Poe said.

Service departments will also be required to conduct surveys or provide documentation of how well and quickly they serve students, faculty and staff, she said. These include Facilities Management, financial aid and the registrar’s office.

Donna Gregory, assessment coordinator for Student Affairs and Campus Services, said service departments on the Hill have been using surveys, focus groups and databases of student needs as part of their assessment plan.

Each academic and service department will turn in drafts of their assessment plan to the university outcomes assessment committee tomorrow, Poe said.

The assessment project is being established to ensure students are competent in their field of study when they leave Western, University Senate President Doug Smith said.

Smith, who teaches Methods of Social Research, said using assessments to improve university programs is a good business practice.

“I’d like to make sure students, when they leave, have an understanding of methods,” he said. “If that’s not coming across then something needs to change in the department.”

Staff Council chairman Elizabeth Paris agreed assessments are a positive for the university.

“Your problems come into light,” she said. “You know what you’re doing good, and you know what you need to work on.”

James T. Rogers, executive director of the commission on colleges for SACS, said member colleges have been required to assess their departments since 1984.

“Our assumption is that every institution in the region has a functioning planning and assessment process,” said James T. Rogers, executive director of the commission on colleges for SACS.

Rogers said SACS requires member universities to use their data collected from assessments to make adjustments to their programs. SACS encourages the schools to have multiple means of assessing their programs.

“I would assume that every department has some way of determining whether their graduates are equipped to deal with the real world,” Rogers said.

Poe said while most departments at Western have some sort of assessment program, no formal, university-wide process exists for conducting those tests or for keeping records on the data.

Gregory said Student Affairs departments are trying to keep better records.

“We are working on having each department develop an assessment records book,” she said.

Departments would keep their assessment plans, records and proof of how they are using the data to adjust their programs in those books, Gregory said.

This is the first year Western departments will be required to assess their programs and keep records of the results, but the assessments will continue after the SACS review, Poe said.

Gene Tice, vice president for Student Affairs and Campus Services, said some departments in his division may only have to do assessments every two years.

Those situations would depend on if a department’s results were constant for a number of years or if the department had just made adjustments that would not immediately show in the data that is collected yearly.

Paris said assessments have only one detraction – the added work for program directors and their staffs.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “That’s mainly the only apprehension I hear.”

Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected]