What is Academic Assessment?
Assessment occurs every day as an organic process conducted by faculty and administrators that are dedicated to improving teaching and student learning. It is a systematic process to understand, support, and enhance teaching and learning within an academic program. Through this process, it is possible to identify inconsistencies, gaps, and strengths within the program.
When assessment is performed from a holistic perspective, the focus shifts from a single group of students to understanding the student learning outcomes within an entire academic program. The concept is to ascertain what students are learning and how effectively everyone involved is in helping them learn.
Why is Academic Program Assessment Important?
There are numerous benefits to assessment initiatives. These fall into two categories:
Assessment provides a platform for faculty and administrators to examine the current state of the curriculum and identify its strengths and weaknesses.
Assessment creates the method of demonstrating academic progress and achievements to stakeholders.
These stakeholders include prospective students, employers, and accrediting bodies like NASPAA (Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration) which focuses on MPA accreditation and MSCHE (Middle States Commission on Higher Education), which focuses on Baruch College accreditation.
Dedicated to our students and the pedagogy of our programs, the Marxe School strives to provide the growth, skills, and knowledge necessary to advance as an individual and within a chosen field.
As a result of the School’s resolute passion and commitment, assessment is ongoing both at an individual level and programmatic level. It is a key process in guiding understanding and leading to enhancements in academic programs.
The mission of the Marxe School and its degree programs is to empower the next generation of public and nonprofit leaders, advance knowledge about public life and policy, and engage communities across our city, nation, and world to foster effective, inclusive institutions and societies. This mission is at the core of academic programs and the outcomes students are expected to attain. It is the School’s mandate to ensure all programmatic aspects demonstrate commitment and consistency to the overall mission. This work recognizes the relationship between mission and the curriculum. Through these efforts, the Marxe School works toward continuous curriculum improvement.
Commitment to Improving Teaching and Learning
Student achievement and success are at the forefront of the Marxe School’s goals, efforts, and activities. In addition to organically assessing individual course sections, faculty are engaged in a multitude of initiatives that promote the culture of improving teaching and learning such as the Marxe faculty seminars, Inclusive Pedagogy workshops as well as writing-specific faculty development workshops and embedded course support.
An institution of higher education is a community dedicated to students, to the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge, to the clarification of values, and to the advancement of the society it serves. Recognizing this larger role higher education plays on society as a whole; it is essential to demonstrate to stakeholders the work and value of the education provided. These stakeholders include accreditors, employers, and potential students. Success comes from taking the needs and perspectives of these participants into consideration.
Assessment efforts are collaborative; the key to success is a combination of faculty expertise and the guidance and vision of specialized administration.
Learning Assessment Committee (LAC)
The LAC is responsible for planning and implementing all assessment activities for Marxe graduate and undergraduate programs. The main objective of the committee is to develop and maintain a systematic process for assessing and improving student learning. The Committee is responsible for the oversight of the development of program learning goals and objectives; working collaboratively with the Marxe Curriculum Committee to ensure these goals align with the curriculum; overseeing the development of assessment instruments as well as the collection of the assessments; and analyzing and using this information for continual improvement. The Committee’s conduct shall be consistent with the standards for the assessment of the MPA program required for accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA).
View information on LAC members [PDF]
Administering Assessment at Marxe
At Marxe, the Learning Assessment Committee (LAC) works in tandem with the administration to collaboratively establish a vision as well as design and implement assessment initiatives across programs. The assessment-focused administrative roles have continued to evolve as a demonstration of Marxe’s commitment to improving teaching and learning.
The role of the Deputy Director of Academic Programs was transitioned to the Office of Assessment, Accreditation, and Institutional Effectiveness under the Provost’s Office with the new title Associate Director of Assessment. This role will continue to focus on managing and guiding Marxe assessment initiatives; however, it now allows for a stronger connection to the mission and work of the College as a whole with the focus of Institutional Effectiveness incorporated.
The Academic Program Coordinator at Marxe assists in the documentation, collection, and analysis of data. This role is also growing in an effort to create a more comprehensive assessment culture and portfolio. This individual will now also be responsible for managing the data for the entire School, ensuring the overall statistics regarding the programs are understood.
These recent changes are also considered an action item as the School and College continue to seek to ensure assessment is a priority across the campus and the work of the School mirrors the priorities and expectations of the College.
Guiding Principles of Assessment at Marxe
Each aspect of the process should originate from this lens, ensuring that we not only examine what the program currently offers, but also establish what more we may want to provide, change, or enhance.
Assessment initiatives are most effective when faculty-driven in combination with administrative leadership to provide vision and support (Kinzie, et al., 2014, p.2). Faculty involvement in every step of the process is essential for meaningful content and valid results; administrative guidance and expertise is also key in leading each step forward and providing an assessment lens to the process.
Assessment initiatives are most effective when a positive culture is cultivated and woven throughout all aspects of the academic environment. As conversations and awareness increases, assessment will become a common theme and a path toward improving teaching and learning. This will lead to increased support and involvement.
The ultimate goal of assessment is continual program improvement. This occurs based on programmatic/curricular actions that take place as a result of the assessment findings and larger conversations related to what has been uncovered.
Assessment at Marxe is a deliberate and purposeful process. It includes the development and revision of goals; collaborative and inclusive pedagogical discourse; careful design and implementation of methods; and the evaluation of data and realization of action and evolution of content/elements as a result of these various phases. The School’s assessment initiatives ensure protocols prioritize the mission and meaning of the work, develop relationships and cultivate support and participation, and improve systems and measures to produce effective organization and action. Since the progress of Marxe’s assessment program and the partnership between the faculty and the assessment manager, a progressive culture focused on collaboration, intellectual dialogue, and effective management and incorporation of data results has been established.
Project-specific assessment cycles typically operate in three-year time frames once planning is complete, with the first two years focused on collecting and analyzing the data, and looking for patterns, trends, and outliers within the results. The final year is dedicated to the generation of conclusions based on the results with potential actions brainstormed and an implementation plan designed. Data is currently established based on a complete population with two outside evaluators with expertise in the field to reduce bias, scoring the student work based on the faculty-approved, program-focused rubric. The evaluators are normed prior to the start of scoring, meeting with faculty and the assessment manager to define scores and practice on sample work, norming those involved and increasing reliability in the method. Evaluator scores are then averaged and aggregated to provide us with a description of the current proficiency of the students related to that particular outcome or area.
Assessment’s important functions include a few notable items.
- Assessment fosters evaluation and discussion of current and future expectations of the curriculum through the development and revision of program learning outcomes
- Assessment provides a platform for critical intellectual discourse regarding curriculum through the development and adjustment of embedded assignments
- Assessment allows further understanding of the programs’ strengths and weakness and where adjustments may need to be made
Course and program Goals within a degree provide an understanding of the significant expectations of that program.
Program Learning Goals are broad statements that address higher order learning as well as encompass the degree’s mission, values, and overall expectations.
- The Program Goals identified are the primary goals of the program and are used to test the teaching and learning within of the curriculum
- These program goals are not the only goals within a program, but the principal expectations
- Goals are addressed at different levels within different courses as well as within other aspects of the program, such as through recommended readings, events, and internships
- Levels of teaching material include Introduction (I), Reinforced (R), Mastered (M)
(Updated every three years)
Courses should be mapped to the various program goals that they address noting the level in which they are addressed.
|Learning Goal A: Distinguish and effectively employ the steps in the policy process: problem/goal identification; stakeholder identification and analysis; financing; approval; implementation and evaluation.||I||R||R||M|
Course goals, which are specific to the content of a particular class, should include statements that are often derived from program goals. When relevant program goals are emphasized in class, students can align course goals with broader program expectations to draw curricular connections across the program. This allows students to understand the expectations and hold themselves accountable for what they will need to know and demonstrate by graduation.
Developing Course Goals
Through various domains of learning (Bloom’s taxonomy), course goals should address the why of what is occurring in the classroom and connect to the program learning goals.
Why are the students being asked to complete specific assignments and participate in discussions? Questions to consider when writing or revising goals:
- What do we expect of students in this course/program?
- How does the course relate to the overall mission, public service values, and goals of the program?
- What do we want students who successfully complete this course/program to know or be able to do after graduating?
- What knowledge and aptitudes do employers look for?
- Use concrete action verbs that address observable performance
- Be clear, simple, and not compound
- Be measurable
- Connect with class work or assignments that develop that goal
Note: Traits such as appreciation, respect, integrity, compassion, etc. are difficult to quantify or define. These constructs are not only difficult to measure, but nearly impossible to teach in a classroom. We can aim to instill these traits by modeling behaviors and discussing experiences and history; however, it is important that goals remain realistic and measurable.
Categories of Cognitive Learning
Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom, 1956)
- Knowledge (know and remember specific facts, theories)
- Comprehension (understand, interpret, compare, contrast, and explain)
- Application (apply knowledge to new situations and solve problems using required knowledge or skills)
- Analysis (identify relationships, organizational structures, and principles)
- Synthesis (create something, to integrate ideas into a solution, propose an action plan, or formulate a new classification scheme)
- Evaluation (judge the quality of something based on its adequacy, value, logic, or use)
Affective (Attitudinal) Learning
Attitudes, values, and habits of mind (we will address this further as we move forward)
The goal of assessment is to enhance the curriculum by evaluating student learning. This is accurately done by collecting a valid sample of evidence in the form of student work, feedback, and other relevant data throughout the program.
Direct evidence includes student work such as case studies, capstones, portfolios, and oral presentations
- Assignments are kept confidential and only used for assessment purposes
- Actions are determined based on what will best benefit students and the overall program. The purpose of Assessment is to continually evaluate learning in order to enhance program and curriculum quality
- Indirect evidence involves data that demonstrates perceived student learning, such as surveys and graduation rate
Assessment occurs naturally in the ongoing engagement of teaching and learning; however, it is often beneficial to have tailored information to provide clarity and guide future work. If more in-depth material is required, contact MSPIA.Assessment@baruch.cuny.edu
The Marxe community has committed to building a strong foundation of values throughout our School and programs. From our mission, we continue this work through a comprehensive lens, including efforts within the curriculum. We expand our scope of inclusion, diversity, and equity to go beyond recruitment and retention and address what students should learn and be able to demonstrate in relation to these values.
As we prepare students for positions of responsibility and leadership in public service, it is essential that we provide them with skills to demonstrate accountability and results within their own organizations and that we model what we teach through our own systematic and thoughtful assessment processes.* (Rubaii & Calarusse, 2014)
As an element of our dedication, the Marxe community is collaborating on a policy statement that represents a collective definition of inclusion, diversity, and equity and how these perspectives and behaviors should be represented within academia. This statement is currently in draft form and will be finalized this academic year. It is an important statement that supports our mission and advancement of work throughout all programs.
*Rubaii, N., & Calarusse, C. (2014). Preparing Public Service Professionals for a Diverse and Changing Workforce and Citizenry: Evaluating the Progress of NASPAA Programs in Competency Assessment. Journal of Public Affairs Education 20(3), 285-304.
Marxe is one of three Schools within Baruch College and operates under Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) Accreditation Standards. Baruch College’s next Accreditation Review is 2019- 2020.
The Master of Public Administration program degree receives program accreditation from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). Marxe’s next Accreditation Review will be 2021-2022. This means that the Self-Study Report would be submitted by August 15, 2021, the site visit would take place sometime between February and April of 2022, and the accreditation decision would be made by the Commission in June of 2022.
For additional information, the Office of Assessment, Accreditation, and Institutional Effectiveness at Baruch College provides comprehensive guidance and resources to support all aspects of assessment and accrediation across campus.
Establishing Program Learning Outcomes
Address what a student should know and be able to demonstrate by graduation:
- Broad statements that address higher order learning as well as encompass the degree’s mission, values, and overall expectations
- Overarching, broad expectations that are addressed in different places throughout the curriculum
- Teachable and measurable
- Students should be able to align their course goals with the broader program expectations in order to draw curricular connections across the program
- Ensuring program goals are clear and present throughout the curriculum allows students to understand their expectations and hold themselves accountable
Learning goals are developed from various cognitive frameworks including Bloom’s taxonomy. These frameworks are organized by levels based on the intricacy of skill and may be summarized into three categories:
- Knowledge and conceptual understanding
- Application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation
- Attitudes, values, dispositions, and habits of mind
Below are the program learning goals listed for each of Marxe’s degree programs. Upon graduation, students within the Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree programs at Marxe are expected to obtain knowledge and demonstrate skills associated with the following Program Learning Goals approved by the faculty and fall under five Universal Competencies established by NASPAA.