Assessment has become increasingly important in higher education in the past fifteen years with pressure to turn attention to student learning from many directions. According to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges' (SACS/COC)* Resource Manual on Institutional Effectiveness: "For educators, policymakers, accrediting agencies, and the general public, the critical issues for the foreseeable future are certain to include the question of whether and to what extent colleges and universities are producing more competent students."1
Several reports in the mid-1980s called for efforts to improve undergraduate education with a focus on learning. In 1985 SACS issued its Criteria for Accreditation that included educational outcomes assessment, or institutional effectiveness, in order "to emphasize the results of education and to focus on the extent to which the institution uses assessment information to reevaluate goals, to make essential improvements, and to plan for the future" (p. iii). One year later, the Virginia legislature directed all public institutions in the Commonwealth "to establish assessment programs to measure student achievement" in Senate Joint Resolution 83, and in April 1987 the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) mandated guidelines for a statewide campus-based assessment program, the first of its kind in the United States. Also that year, the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) initiated the Assessment Forum, a national network to connect and support higher education assessment efforts. Two years later, federal regulations were revised to require that in order to obtain federal recognition, accreditation agencies must include evidence of institutional outcomes in their procedures and criteria for accreditation of institutions within their jurisdiction.
The number of colleges and universities carrying out assessment activities since the early 1980s has grown from a handful to virtually all institutions of higher education today. Assessment at Old Dominion University began in the 1986-87 academic year as the Assessment of Academic Achievement (AAA) Task Force within the Office of Student Services. Its mission was to develop a comprehensive plan to assess academic achievement at the undergraduate level. With the approval of SCHEV, the plan was designed to assess student learning in general education, the major fields, and in developmental/remedial programs. Instruments to measure undergraduate student and alumni satisfaction with academic programs and services at Old Dominion University were also developed.
In Fiscal Year 1991-92 AAA was moved from Student Services to Academic Affairs, although administrative staff support has remained essentially unchanged. An important breakthrough for the Assessment Program occurred in 1992 with the recognition that the data and analysis that had accumulated over several years were now being viewed as an important source of information on the effectiveness of the institution. Evaluating various aspects of the undergraduate experience and making the results available to decision-makers for actions related to the goal of curriculum improvement became the objective of the Assessment Program.
In 1995, the Provost directed a thorough review of the structure and methods of assessment at Old Dominion University. At that time an assessment position allocated for TELETECHNET was broadened to encompass the duties of a Director of Assessment for the University, and an external consultant was engaged to assume those responsibilities.
Largely decentralized at Old Dominion University, assessment is an inherently dynamic process requiring continuous evaluation of current practices and application of results to improve the process. For the last decade the Assessment Office has published biennial reports which are the result of assessing the impact of Old Dominion University's undergraduate programs on student achievement. The 1998 report compiled assessment data from each of the six Colleges in separate documents. Later that year as a result of a recommendation by a SACS/COC Substantive Change Review of the TELETECHNET Distance Education Program, a decision was made to publish biennial reports that focus directly on the changes that result from assessment activities at Old Dominion University. In November 1999 the first of those reports, Assessment and Change: Improvements to Instruction at Old Dominion University, focused on assessment-related changes to academic programs. Subsequent reports are expanded to include changes in other Academic Affairs units as well as in non-academic program services.
The recent increased focus on the assessment of student learning by both SACS-COC and specialized accrediting agencies such as ABET, AACSB, and NCATE, along with the implementation of WEAVEonline, suggest that it is time to transform the Assessment Office to incorporate more profound collaboration with the Colleges.
WEAVEonline was developed as a web-based database to manage all program level assessment planning and reporting. Since WEAVE was implemented in 2006, the focus has been on training faculty and staff members not only how to use WEAVE but also how to improve their assessment processes. Many academic and administrative programs need assistance in writing measurable objectives, identifying or developing reliable and valid measures, collecting and analyzing data, and using the data to make program improvements.
Over a five-year period, the assessment program was guided by the Great New Assessment Team (GNATs). When Dave Hager assumed his role in 2005, John P. Broderick and Phil Langlais agreed to serve on the GNATs along with Scott Harrison from Student Affairs, Heather Huling from Distance Learning, and Marty Sharpe, Worth Pickering, and the Research Associate for Assessment from Institutional Research and Assessment (IRA). Much of that last 5 years was focused on building the infrastructure for assessment.
Since then, we have gained visibility and provided greater access across campus by adding new full- and half-time staff members as well as 'unofficial' members (advocates and supporters from other campus colleges and departments) to the Assessment Team, providing us with the capacity to assist the campus community in an effective and efficient way. Currently, the Assessment Program has two Senior Research Associates and two Research Associates assisting all members of the university community with the assessment planning and reporting process.
The Assessment Program continues to build upon its strengths: an assessment process for students that is part of the culture, an assessment planning and reporting process for academic programs and administrative units that is a part of the evidence-based decision making culture, WEAVE as a system for storing assessment plans and reports, and Inquisite for collecting data. Our focus remains on refining the processes and using them to produce data for improving student learning, enhancing programs, and guiding University decision making.
1: Third Ed., 1996, p. 2.
* Old Dominion University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097; telephone number 404-679-4501) to award baccalaureate, master's, certificates of advanced study, and doctoral degrees.