Book Reviews

Book by Peggy L. Maki
Review by Michelle M. White
Director of Academic Advisement
Associate Professor, Academic and Student Development
Millersville University

Over the last decade, assessment of student learning has made its way into higher education primarily due to accreditors’ demand that evidence of student achievement of institutional-level, program-level, and course-level learning outcomes be included as a major component of institutional effectiveness. Written in the first-person by faculty and administrators who have served on the front lines of their institutions’ assessment efforts, this book contains 14 essays describing institutions’ and programs’ journeys. Integrated into each essay are observations, lessons learned, and reflections to design and implement an effective and useful assessment process. Collectively, the essays provide a documentary of efforts that have taken place in institutions ranging from community colleges to 4-year colleges and universities. These authors’ stories and perspectives are not only documentaries of the assessment movement, but also instructive accounts of institutional change in higher education. They describe assessment as complicated and time consuming, yet possible when led by those whose commitment and intentionality are accompanied by patience.

Readers may recognize and have personal experience with the most consistent pattern that runs through these essays—the overwhelming expenditure of energy over multiple years and around challenges to gain momentum in assessment—often preceded by years of inertia. Chapter titles such as “From Bereavement to Assessment” and “Slouching toward Assessment” characterize the difficulties of taking first steps into assessment and developing institution and program level processes to integrate assessment of student learning as sustainable initiatives of the institution. In these essays, the reader will also identify patterns of behavior that they have experienced on their own campus: 1.) patterns of faculty resistance from mild discomfort to denial based on the enduring belief that grades are the best documentation of student learning; 2.) assessment is a fad and an invasion of academic freedom and individuality; and 3.) assessment is also a means to weed out undesirable faculty or programs with low enrollment. Clearly the overriding push for assessment comes from internal and also external sources such as accrediting agencies or from state boards of higher education, yet mandating participation elicits immediate negative responses. How institutions translate those external demands into the culture, behaviors, structures, processes, and procedures is an important strength of these chapters. Authors manage to leverage change in perspectives, attitudes, and behaviors around assessment by chronologically and patiently addressing levels of misunderstanding, confusion, and outright denial leading to understanding and openness for assessment. They also offer several successful strategies that have brought participants into the assessment movement. Several of the authors see themselves as coaches, recognizing their need to be flexible as they work with and respond to their colleagues.

The authors suggest developing channels of communication and reporting calendars that brings to light assessment results and recommendations for changes in educational practices. They also acknowledge that without agreed-upon timetables for acting on the results and implementing changes to improve student learning, assessment could run the risk of becoming an exercise without immediate student benefits. A cautionary theme emerges in these chapters. Specifically, will those who make institution-level decisions view recommendations emerging from assessment as an institutional priority and leave educators to believe that this work has minimal significance? Importantly, institutional leaders need to determine how to support, reward and prioritize this essential professional work. 

I recommend this as a great addition for your library either if you are currently involved or will be involved in your institutions’ or departments’ assessment efforts. It is informative regardless of the size of your institution and is a candid and comprehensive volume as the title suggests on coming to terms with student outcomes assessment.

Coming to terms with student outcomes assessment: Faculty and administrators’ journeys to integrating assessment in their work and institutional culture. (2010). Book by Peggy L. Maki (Ed.) Review by Michelle M. White Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing. 230 pp. $24.95, ISBN # 978-1-57922-435-6
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