Office finds substantial gains in undergraduate reading, writing, critical thinking
11:47 a.m., Sept. 12, 2011--Incoming freshmen enter the University of Delaware with reading, writing and critical thinking skills that are at the level of sophomores and juniors at comparable Research I universities, according to the results of the 2010 Educational Proficiency Profile (EPP), an SAT-like standardized test developed by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to measure competencies in core areas of general education skills.
To confirm the results and measure the “value added” by a UD education, the Office of Educational Assessment (OEA) designed a comparative study for more than 100 undergraduate freshmen and seniors, and found substantial gains across critical thinking measures. This OEA study, which examined actual artifacts -- or work done by students in their courses -- to assess writing and critical thinking skills, provided a more nuanced method in understanding gains amongst UD students in these skills than standardized tests such as ETS’ EPP.
“By using developmental rubrics, we can measure greater gains than a standardized test,” says OEA Director Kathy Pusecker. “What’s more, we can break down the criteria for something as big and nebulous as ‘critical thinking,’ and answer questions like, ‘Where are our students doing well? In what areas do they still need improvement? ’”
OEA found gains ranging from 50-78 percent in critical thinking areas such as analysis, conclusions and design, indicating that “as students conduct more research, they understand methods and can better synthesize information,” adds Pusecker.
And that, she says, is the goal of the office -- to help all departments, programs and faculty assess how well their students are learning the material they want them to learn.
Assessment and accreditation
OEA played an integral role in the reaccreditation process from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, writing three of the 14 chapters demonstrating the University’s proficiency in student learning assessment.
But while the accreditation process may have ended, assessment has not.
“One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that we’ve stopped now that Middle States is over,” Pusecker says. “I tell them, ‘No, we’re always assessing student learning. ’”
This ongoing effort is made possible by OEA’s three Faculty Assessment Scholars: Delphis Levia, an associate professor of geography; Donald Lehman, an associate professor of medical technology; and Ian Crawford, an associate professor and acting chair of the Department of English with extensive experience in higher education accreditation and student learning assessment.
The three scholars work on numerous initiatives, from running workshops to help faculty create observable and measurable goals; to creating “assessment rubrics” for faculty to use in their classrooms; to working with departments and programs on “curricular design mapping,” thereby ensuring that students are introduced to concepts that are reinforced and applied as their education progresses.
Their most recent initiative involves assessing e-portfolios of student work to measure learning.
As a faculty scholar, Levia stresses the importance of iterative assessments, stating, “We need to know where we are so that we can get to where we need to be.”
Article by Artika Rangan