> Outcomes Assessment and Continuous Improvement
Continuous Quality Improvement and the Assessment Cycle
Assessment is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. The extent of the academic business unit’s performance and the degree of its overall effectiveness depend on its efforts at continuous improvement. Consequently, an effective outcomes assessment plan leads to continuous quality improvement in all of the activities of the academic business unit. Continuous improvement is a circular or cyclical process that links the planning, implementation, and evaluation phases of the business unit’s quality management system with feedback and adjustment mechanisms. This continual assessment cycle requires the academic business unit to “close the loop” in outcomes assessment, i.e., to use assessment results to identify changes and improvements that are needed in its business programs, processes, and activities, to develop and implement action plans for making those changes and improvements, and to assess the extent to which the action plans resulted in the desired outcomes.
The Assessment Cycle
- Articulate goals and intended outcomes for students and for the academic business unit (intended student learning outcomes and operational outcomes).
- Use assessment tools to gather data and information pertaining to the goals and intended outcomes.
- Analyze and evaluate the assessment results to determine the extent to which students and the academic business unit are achieving the desired goals and outcomes (using rubrics and performance targets/criteria/objectives).
- Identify changes and improvements that are needed (in curricula, resources, processes, etc.).
- Prepare and execute strategies and action plans to implement the identified changes and improvements.
- Evaluate the results of executed strategies and action plans to determine the extent to which they resulted in the desired outcomes (i.e., repeat the assessment process and determine “realized” outcomes). This phase of the outcomes assessment process represents “closing the loop” in outcomes assessment, i.e., the “Assessment Feedback Loop.”
For more information on assessment and continuous improvement, see Continuous Quality Improvement and the Deming Cycle.
Continuous Improvement and Assessment Measures
The major purpose of outcomes assessment is to provide a basis for continuous improvement in curriculum, pedagogy, institutional resources, academic support services, staffing, and other aspects of institutional operations that impact student learning and the overall effectiveness of the academic business unit. It is therefore important that any needed changes and improvements identified through the assessment process be based on the best possible data, and that assessment results accurately and reliably characterize the institution’s business programs.
Consequently, the academic business unit should undertake reasonable efforts to ensure that the measurement instruments employed for both student learning assessment and operational assessment possess adequate degrees of validity and reliability. Accordingly, the direct and indirect measures of student learning and the measurement tools and methods employed to assess the intended operational outcomes should actually measure the outcomes that they are intended to measure and they should yield similar, consistent results from the measurement of the intended outcomes under varying conditions.