Each year, incoming freshmen take one of several exams to assess different aspects of their experiences coming into college.

For upperclassmen, these assessments took place during freshmen orientation. However, this year’s freshmen weren’t required to take assessments during orientation. Instead, they were asked to participate online in their free time.

These changes were decided when Elaine Ackerman, director of assessment, met with this year’s orientation leaders.

“Orientation was not the time for testing,” Ackerman said.

Braden Carkhuff, senior class representative in the Student Government Association, was an orientation leader this past year and experienced the change. He said that the club atmosphere was improved and stress was reduced with the addition of more free time between scheduled activities.

“Our days were less full,” Carkhuff said.

In addition, orientation groups were entered into drawings if 80 percent or more of their group participated. This way, students were given an incentive to participate in the assessments.

“They need to have something that they can get out of it,” Carkhuff said.

The idea of incentives for completing assessments is not new. Ackerman often offers some kind of drawing or reimbursement when students take excess time out of their schedules to complete assessments. She said incentives help to increase the number of students who participate, which makes the data received from the assessments more reliable.

Assessments run on a five year schedule so each class takes different tests. This year’s freshmen took a global perspective inventory which assesses students’ global awareness and comfort with diversity.

Some other assessments include the standardized assessment of information literacy skills (assesses how well students can access information), the national survey for student engagement (assesses how engaged students are on campus) and assessments for inquiry seminars and other courses.

Ackerman said that she also performs focus groups. Ackerman asks students to participate in these groups so she can have a better idea why certain assessment results occur and what students really think about the subjects assessed.

“It gives students an opportunity to say more,” she said.

However, Ackerman also works to limit how many assessments students see each year. When students wish to send out questionnaires for projects, they are required to get approval from Ackerman.

She can then limit how many are sent out in a given period of time. This way, students aren’t inundated with requests for surveys that often get disregarded.

Each department is also required to do internal assessments. Students often see these in the form of course evaluations. However, they are also required to create a document outlining how they assess student progress each year. It must outline their main and sub-goals and state whether or not these goals are being met.

Carkhuff works through SGA as part of the assessment committee. He acts as a liaison between the students and staff.

When he first started in this position, he said he would have described assessment as a “weird enigma thing.”

“I didn’t know personally what the purpose was,” Carkhuff said.

However, he said that as he spent more time learning about assessment, he learned how important it is to Concordia as a college.

A large reason for  assessment is the requirements placed of the Higher Learning Commission. The HLC is the group that determines which colleges and universities get accreditation. In order to stay accredited, schools must have an outline for assessment and must show proof of this when the HLC comes to visit.

Concordia College is scheduled to be visited in 2013.

“Assessment is essential,” said Bruce Vieweg, associate provost, interim dean of students, and chief information officer.

However, the HLC isn’t the only reason to perform assessment.

“There is always something we can do to make things better,” Vieweg said.

Assessment results are combined with staff knowledge and expertise in what Vieweg called data-informed decision making. Professors can change curriculum and teaching methods, staff can change how orientation functions, the librarians can change how they assist students with research and Dining Services can change how they organize special events and theme meals.

Considering the importance assessment has to Concordia, Carkhuff said “assessment’s not evil.”

 

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