The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) defines accreditation as the “review of quality of higher education institutions and programs.” This review ensures stakeholders – the public, parents and students – that an institution is nurturing student development as promised and advertised.
A crucial component of the accreditation process for institutions of higher education is Learning Outcomes Assessment, or the systematic process of collecting and analyzing data about student learning to identify gaps and continuously improve educational quality.
Independent organizations responsible for accrediting institutions have specific standards and principles that require schools and programs to document their Learning Outcomes Assessment processes in order to demonstrate the continuous improvement of educational quality through informed and data-backed remediation initiatives.
Let’s take a closer look at the Learning Outcomes Assessment standards of three of the most prominent business school accreditation bodies – AACSB, ACBSP, and IACBE.
“The school uses well-documented, systematic processes for determining and revising degree program learning goals; designing, delivering, and improving degree program curricula to achieve learning goals; and demonstrating that degree program learning goals have been met.”
“Business schools and programs must have an outcomes assessment program with documentation of the results and evidence that the results are being used for the development and improvement of the institution’s academic programs. Each business program is responsible for developing its own outcomes assessment program.”
“Academic quality in business programs is evaluated through the assessment of the academic business unit’s intended student learning outcomes. This requires the academic business unit to have developed and fully implemented an outcomes assessment process. This process includes an outcomes assessment plan for its new business programs, the identification of necessary changes and improvements as a result of implementing the plan, the integration of those changes into its strategic planning process, and the documentation of realized outcomes.”
The individuals responsible for Learning Outcomes Assessment and accreditation reports, often referred to as Accreditation Managers, face challenges that make the implementation of standardized processes, collection of data and final reporting a difficult task to accomplish. Let’s explore three of the biggest Learning Outcomes Assessment challenges they face in the accreditation process.
Learning Outcomes Assessment and accreditation requires a collaborative effort by administrators and instructors. However, it can be difficult for Accreditation Managers to implement standardized processes across their curriculum because many stakeholders within the institution are accustomed to working in isolation and with little oversight.
In addition, it is common for instructors to perceive requirements and demands from the administrative branch of an institution as a burden on their ability to teach and develop students. For example, Accreditation Managers who require instructors to implement a specific Learning Outcomes Assessment tool impact the status quo and ignore instructors’ preference of teaching methodology.
It’s important for Accreditation Managers to involve instructors in the creation and implementation of accreditation and Learning Outcomes Assessment processes. A lack of consensus on learning goals and methods creates a barrier between stakeholders that prevents the effective improvement of educational quality.
The ‘Criterion Problem’ – the fact that learning assessment is always imperfect – complicates the process of obtaining meaningful data for reporting. The Venn diagram below depicts the two issues, data contamination and deficiency, caused by the ‘Criterion Problem.’
A lack of understanding around Learning Outcomes Assessment best practices also means Accreditation Managers can receive assessment data that is irrelevant to the learning outcomes being measured in their institution or program.
According to Jack Friedlander and Andreea Serban, “Generally, at any given college, few faculty and staff have been formally trained in developing measurable and valid learning outcomes; aligning the curriculum with those outcomes; developing assessment questions, instruments, and methods; and developing and implementing a plan for assessing those outcomes that is manageable, meaningful, and sustainable.”
A Learning Outcomes Assessment process that is not standardized produces varied and complex assessment data. The multiple assessment methods utilized across a single curriculum create convoluted results that are difficult to consolidate, interpret and align to specific learning goals.
This process is further complicated by the fact that the majority of individuals responsible for accreditation and Learning Outcomes Assessment have never been formally trained on how to establish assessment processes, collect data and formulate accreditation reports.
“Few institutions have designated staff member(s) with the time, knowledge, and skills to link course, program, and institutional learning outcomes or to disseminate the results of the student learning outcomes efforts.” – Jack Friedlander and Andreea Serban
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