This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

FSEC discusses “least painful” assessment methods for university

Published: November 18, 2004

Contributing Editor

Sounding a bit like a dentist before he begins drilling, Kerry S. Grant, interim vice provost for undergraduate education, yesterday gave the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and Satish K. Tripathi, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, a preview of "what we hope is the least painful process of assessment that can be devised by mankind" when it comes to determining outcomes of undergraduate education at UB.

The plan also could eventually result in some UB seniors being given exams such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for free, the committee learned.

SUNY two years ago asked each of its 64 campuses to establish a plan for assessing undergraduate education, specifically in terms of learning outcomes in 13 subject areas. UB is "one of several outlyers" in the 64-member SUNY system that has yet to submit a proposal, Grant said, and has until February 2005 to put the finishing touches on the current draft.

Grant was joined at the meeting by Peter S. Gold, associate dean of general education, College of Arts and Sciences, and Carol L. Tutzauer, assistant director for assessment, who have been working with SUNY to bring the draft document into compliance with SUNY standards.

Tutzauer said their goal has been to design an assessment process that is as unobtrusive as possible for faculty members.

"We've been very careful to allow for the maximum flexibility of the individual faculty member in his or her course. We think that is appropriate," Tutzauer said.

The plan now allows faculty members to use "course-embedded activities as the basis for assessments, which means no additional requirements in classes," she continued.

"Whatever people are currently doing in their classes, we believe that we can find activities that will be sufficient for assessment purposes," Tutzauer said. "In a lot of cases, particularly for people teaching large courses, a multiple-choice final exam is perfect. There will be items on that exam that really are direct indicators and relate directly to the very broadly stated SUNY learning objectives.

"For people who want to do perhaps more subjective types of things, assessing papers, projects, art projects, performances, those types of things, they obviously already use some kind of scoring system and all SUNY wants is some kind of reliable scoring system" to show how students meet the learning objectives."

She said the process is still ongoing and will be finalized only after faculty members have had a chance to review and approve what is proposed. In addition to preparing an aggregate report of percentages of students who exceed, meet, approach or do not meet the learning objectives, as required by SUNY, Tutzauer said her office also will prepare individualized reports for internal use by UB faculty only "so that their individual class data is reported to them and they also see what the aggregate data that is going to SUNY is. We think that would be good feedback for the faculty as well."

In response to a question about mathematics course requirements, Tutzauer pointed out that SUNY has provided new guidelines to help institutions decide how to best assess "the big three" outcomes: writing, critical thinking and mathematics.

"The new guidelines actually have moved away from course-based assessment to more university-wide based assessment and some form of campus-wide testing," she said.

Among the methods UB is considering for these outcomes is "giving (a sampling of) seniors the GRE exam," Tutzauer said.

"The SUNY system administration has agreed to pay for those for tests that we perform, and so we're looking to find something that will give value to the students...but also meet those requirements as well. Although we haven't settled on proposing a particular test, the GRE looks like it might fit the bill because it measures all three of those outcomes," Tutzauer said.

The committee agreed to hold an executive session with Tripathi after the meeting to appoint a subcommittee to review the assessment process.

In another matter, the FSEC agreed to give its feedback regarding a SUNY-wide report on faculty development to Tripathi so that he may convey that information by the end of this month to the SUNY task force that authored the report.