Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

Assessment at James Madison University

James Madison University has developed an institution-wide assessment program that crosses academic and student affairs, recognizing a common interest in the development of the student as a whole individual. The program, which began in the late 1980's, includes assessment at four stages:

  1. Matriculating student assessment during summer orientation for all entering freshman
  2. Mid-point assessment of all undergraduates in early February
  3. Assessment of graduating seniors in conjunction with their academic major
  4. Regular surveys of alumni.

Assessment covers general education, the major, and programs sponsored by student affairs. The program is designed to evaluate learning outcomes by establishing a baseline for entering freshman and following their development over time. For general education courses, assessment is developed from learning outcomes set and measured by faculty.

From the James Madison University experience, we believe the following are characteristics of an effective assessment program:

  • clear, specific and measurable objectives for student learning at the level of department and course that fulfill the intent of institutional goals
  • multiple methods (selected, developed or adapted) to properly assess each of the objectives for student learning
  • regular procedures to scrutinize the reliability and validity of the assessment methods
  • a proper design to ensure that internal and external threats to the validity of the assessment program have been minimized
  • agreed-upon standards for assessment such as "cut-off" scores for student performance
  • carefully planned and monitored procedures to collect assessment information, including suitable and comprehensive statistical procedures
  • a plan for interpreting assessment results (outcomes concerning student learning) relative to institutional goals for student learning
  • a means to gather evidence of curricular, instructional, and/or modifications to serving students in response to the interpreted assessment results
  • a means to gather evidence that resources have been allocated or reallocated in response to the interpreted assessment results
  • regular, accurate and objective reports to the community about statistical findings and evidence of the use of such findings to shape institutional future
  • continuing leadership of administrators, faculty and staff engaged in ongoing discussions about the assessment of student learning
  • trustworthy and competent staff responsible for conducting assessment, so that findings achieve maximum credibility, acceptance and trust of the broad campus community.