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National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Example of Good Assessment Practice: Colorado State University


Kinzie, J. (2011, August). Colorado State University: A Comprehensive Continuous Improvement System (NILOA Examples of Good Assessment Practice). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

"Now, assessment has a positive influence on teaching and student learning. The emphasis has shifted from assessment as our duty, to assessment as a meaningful way to reflect on our work, and provide feedback on faculty and student performance."
-- Faculty, History

Colorado State University: A Comprehensive Continuous Improvement System

Colorado State University was determined to be an instructive case study because of its innovative learning outcomes assessment and institutional improvement activities have been highlighted in various publications (see Bender, 2009; Bender, Johnson, & Siller, 2010; Bender & Siller, 2006, 2009; McKelfresh & Bender, 2009) and have been noted by experts in assessment and accreditation. CSU's assessment effort in student affairs is a model for bridging the work of academic affairs and student affairs through student learning outcomes assessment. Over the last dozen years, CSU has expanded its continuous improvement system for managing information sharing to serve the decision-making and reporting needs of various audiences. This system—known as the CSU Plan for Researching Improvement and Supporting Mission, or PRISM—provides information on the university's performance in prioritized areas, uses a peer review system for feedback, and emphasizes the importance of documenting institutional improvements informed by assessment results.
Link to the full report here.

Lessons from Colorado State University

1. Build on aspects of the institutional and assessment culture that work well and connect them in ways that make productive assessment activity visible and shared. CSU leveraged success in program review, specialized accreditation, and a homegrown database to develop its more integrated PRISM system, which also provided a platform for showcasing and sharing assessment and improvement efforts.

2. Create customized entry points and paths to highlight results salient to valued audiences. CSU developed pathways on PRISM to present results in the form of questions to address the specific interests of constituent groups including alumni, students, parents, and employers.

3. Strive to make assessment activity regular, routine, continuous, and connected to valued practices in departments and units. CSU enhanced a routine program review process by expanding involvement and discussion through review committees, by monitoring improvements that result from the review and, more recently, by making program-based student learning outcomes and their assessment a criterion in its formal policy on New Program Planning Proposals.

4. Highlight specific instances of assessment results used in continuous improvement activities. Spotlighting program improvements at CSU fostered faculty and staff interest in using data to improve and stimulate demonstrable change in courses, in programs, and in student affairs.

5. Provide support to faculty and staff who attempt innovations and enhancements in teaching and learning based on assessment results. At CSU, this support came in the form of training in assessment techniques and approaches, regular meetings, an annual student affairs assessment conference, and support through The Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT).

6. Ensure student learning outcomes are emphasized and well represented in assessment and continuous improvement activities in academic affairs and student affairs. Recognition of the benefits of using rubrics for student learning stimulated broader use of rubrics among CSU faculty, and the required reporting on student learning outcomes in student affairs units has fostered greater understanding of the shared emphasis on student learning in academic affairs and student affairs.