Sigma Xi Statement - John F. Pilger

John F. Pilger, Agnes Scott College

My experience with assessment has been at both the departmental and institutional level. In preparation for an accreditation review eight years ago, I served on a sub-committee that reviewed assessment plans of each department in the institution. Prior to their submitting assessment plans the departments were instructed as to how to identify assessment factors on the basis of statements made in their individual mission, goals and objective statements. Many departments, especially those in non-empirical disciplines, found it extremely difficult to make the connection between their educational goals and an appropriate assessment method. Initially I found this view perplexing but after discussions with the departments I came to better understand and appreciate the subjectivity of assessment practices. I am interested in dialogue about the subjective and objective nature of assessment and how it is implemented in various disciplines. Presently we struggle with the problem of building faculty confidence in the use of departmental assessment tools that they themselves have devised. In addition we must work to counter the view held by many that assessment is simply a burden imposed upon them from an outside agency. Some would prefer to abandon assessment altogether but this clearly cannot happen in an academic setting that strives for excellence. There are at least four roles of an educational mission statement. Among these are that it: defines the contemporary understanding of the institution; provides a benchmark against which the institution can measure its effectiveness; guides the allocation of institutional resources; and serves as a guide for institutional branding and marketing. The second of these roles is directly related to assessment of institutional effectiveness. My institution is now in the process of rewriting its mission statement. Some of the statements are descriptive in nature while others are aspirational. As we develop and revise the drafts we continually ask ourselves whether and how these statements we write can be assessed. When assessment is scaled up to the institutional level, statements about student learning in the more empirical disciplines (e.g., math and sciences) become difficult to assess. It seems that this is the case because the goal statements are more general in their description. That is, when we say that "students will learn to think critically and broadly to seek multiple solutions to problems" or that they "will have a positive appreciation for the methods of science" we find it challenging to devise objective measurements of success. I am interested in this problem as well as the broader question of how assessment practices are devised and implemented at other institutions.