Gen-ed assessment plan accelerating to meet NEASC requirements

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The fall 2017 New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) final report for Johnson State College left the college with a warning regarding its general education program assessment processes.

The JSC gen-ed curriculum consists of four focuses: a first-year seminar, creative audience, three foundational programs and integrative perspectives. With this, gen-ed curriculum is designed to give graduates “the skills needed to flourish” in the real world.

According to the recent report, the NEASC team says that the JSC gen-ed program “lacks standard assessment protocols and instruments to evaluate its effectiveness, strengths and weaknesses, and fit with program and student learning outcomes.”

With this, Associate Professor in the Writing and Literature department and Interim Academic Dean Sharon Twigg noted that during the assessment groups visit they pointed out a few aspects of the gen-ed assessment that were strong. “Two of the strong aspects are the foundational skills in math and composition, because we have the writing proficiency exam, and that’s a good assessment tool, and math also has a good assessment tool for their quantitative reasoning outcome,” said Twigg. “There was an assessment plan that had been agreed on last spring, and even though it was a good plan, it was too late. They wanted us to start assessing programs 10 years ago.”

Twigg said that the recently revised gen-ed program at JSC slowed the process of working on the assessment plan to go along with it, therefore leading to it not getting off the ground fast enough. “The plan that the faculty approved last spring was designed to provide us with the map for what we needed to do,” said Twigg.

Associate Professor in the Education Department David McGough notes that faculty had a desire to create an assessment model for all academic programs many years ago and has been working on it since. With this, in recent years there was a committee created to assess and design an assessment model for gen-ed programs.

McGough says that the drive to come up with a model led to two proposals, one from the assessment committee and the other from the gen-ed committee. “The faculty ended up adopting a number of aspects from the gen-ed committee’s three-part plan in May 2016,” said McGough.

The plan was to begin with a focus group of exit interviews that were scheduled to take place this spring with students who have recently completed the gen-ed requirements at JSC. “Given the NEASC report, I spearheaded accelerating this,” said Twigg.

As far as accelerating goes, McGough says that there was a decision to fund the model so they could implement all three parts at once.

Twigg noted that assessing different courses across the gen-ed program will also be taking place as soon as possible. This will be done by taking a sample of gen-ed courses across a program, electing samples of student work anonymously and then seeing if they are meeting the gen-ed outcomes. “This way we can start to build a body of data that will show whether we are meeting outcomes after we have assessed them,” said Twigg.

The second and third parts to the overall gen-ed assessment plan will consist of looking at some outcomes from students in gen-ed courses and ending with a student survey. McGough says that and additional element is to look at the whole gen-ed process, including the way syllabi get approved and implemented.

“We are hoping that we can create something authentic in terms of assessment,” says McGough. “Much assessment that goes on in higher education produces results that aren’t really valid, meaning they aren’t really connected to the actual aims of a program or collect data that’s not reliable based on the implementation of a program.”

Overall, Twigg says that the NEASC report on the gen-ed program at JSC can sort of be looked at as a warning ticket that you might get if you are speeding, but in this case it’s for going too slow.