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The Journal of Higher Education
ISSN: 0022-1546 (Print) 1538-4640 (Online) Journal homepage:
Assessing Student Learning and Development:
A Guide to the Principles, Goals, and Methods of
Determining College Outcomes
Dawn E. Schrader
To cite this article: Dawn E. Schrader (1992) Assessing Student Learning and Development: A
Guide to the Principles, Goals, and Methods of Determining College Outcomes, The Journal of
Higher Education, 63:4, 463-465, DOI: 10.1080/00221546.1992.11778379
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Published online: 01 Nov 2016.
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Download by: [UNSW Library]
Date: 26 October 2017, At: 03:55
Book Reviews
Assessing Student Learning and Development: A Guide to
the Principles, Goals, and Methods of Determining
College Outcomes, by T. Dary Erwin. San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass, 1991. 208 pp. $26.96.
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Cornell University
The subtitle of this book, "A Guide to the Principles,
Goals, and Methods of Determining College Outcomes," aptly describes the
content of Assessing Student Learning and Development. This book is indeed
a guide; but more than that, it provides a basic overview of questions that researchers ought to address before undertaking any scholarly investigation in
higher education.
The book begins with a general overview of the current focus on assessment
in higher education. Political, economic, educational and social issues are cited
as the reasons for the increased concern about assessment. The public seeks accountability and fiscal responsibility from colleges and universities; industry
seeks a well-trained work force; and higher education institutions seek curricular reforms, student development, and clarification of what higher education
contributes to students and society. Erwin states that the missions of colleges
and universities include issues regarding the whole student, not simply academic or vocational contributions. Assessment helps colleges meet these goals.
The primary contribution of Assessing Student Learning and Development
is its "how to" approach. Any student development specialist, faculty member
or student assigned to an assessment committee, or experienced researcher is
led step by step through important considerations of assessment. Details of
major and minor (which may later become major) assessment considerations,
warnings of political pitfalls, and references to more specific and technical aspects of assessment are included in each chapter. Chapters are designed to help
a committee through each major phase of the assessment, from outlining objectives to selecting assessment methods, from the design of new methods that fit
the needs of the institution, to data collection, analysis, and interpretation. For
example, in the chapter on establishing objectives for outcome assessment Erwin outlines the three major types of objectives - subject matter, developmental, and skill objectives - then provides the reader with definitions, criteria, and
examples of each type of objective. Following this format, which is repeated
throughout the book, assessors may replicate the assessment process and design
an assessment procedure that fits their own institutional needs and goals.
Of particular value are the chapters on selecting assessment methods and designing new methods. A broad overview of reliability and validity is presented,
which can serve as a "checklist" for instrument selection. Triangulation is mentioned as a way to compensate for the shortcomings of a single approach research design, although discussion of this approach is sketchy at best. The
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Journal of Higher Education
chapter on designing new methods for use in assessment studies is especially
useful. Cited are suggestions for writing multiple choice test items, designing
rating scales, and constructing checklists and questionnaires. Open-ended interviews are mentioned, but primarily in the context of providing preliminary
information for designing questionnaires, rating scales, or checklists, or are
used "under the name of oral examinations, for faculty assessing in the major or
in liberal studies" (p. 94). Erwin cites, for example, Colby, Kohlberg, Gibbs and
Lieberman's [3] Moral Judgment Interview and Baxter Magolda's [I] Measure
of Epistemological Reflection as interviews used to assess student development.
Erwin does not address open-ended and ethnographic interviews as useful for
assessment of individual student development variables; neither does he include
a substantive discussion of narrative data and hermeneutic interpretation, which
feminist critics of traditional methodologies in developmental psychology, such
as Gilligan [47] and Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule [2], have espoused.
Data analysis, maintenance, and reports are discussed in the last portion of
the book. Analysis should be conducted in concert with the objectives under
study and "interpretation is generally the major responsibility of the person's
whose programs are under study" (p. I I I). Erwin advocates the inclusion of
both negative and positive results in assessment reports and encourages communication with constituent groups in the form of progress reports. Throughout the book he emphasizes cooperation - among students, faculty, student
affairs staff, and administrators. He believes that it is only through this cooperation that assessment will be successful, that student development will be enhanced, and that programmatic changes in curriculum and educational objectives will be accepted.
Two additional points are addressed in Assessing Student Learning and Development that are essential to the process of assessment: acting on the results
of the assessment and following ethical guidelines. While acknowledging that
the use of assessment results is dependent upon many political and economic
factors, Erwin places responsibility on the final reports for making specific recommendations for action and for generating new hypotheses. Ethical guidelines should also be followed in areas of "utility, feasibility, propriety, and
accuracy" (p. 149), and individual student data should be confidential and reported to the student. Erwin believes that such feedback is important in stimulating student learning, encouraging commitment to participation, and supporting the assessment project itself.
While the book provides the novice researcher with an excellent step-by-step
approach to assessment and its issues, its primary weakness is in the practical
illustration of assessment. Erwin cites Alverno College, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and his own James Madison University as institutions that
have successfully implemented assessment programs. Brief illustrations of these
programs punctuate the text, and two questionnaires are in the Appendix. Case
illustrations of the successes and failures of the projects would have been more
informative and provided a more complete picture of the assessment process. In
addition, the lack of specific guidelines for implementation to action could be
addressed by using case studies.
The brief section on ethics raises important points including mandatory student participation and academic freedom. Erwin states, "Institutions should
make clear at the outset that students are required to participate in assessment
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Book Reviews
activities" (p. 150). A policy of forced compliance, though good for assessment,
may infringe upon students' rights of consent for participation in research. No
one can guarantee that instrumentation chosen or constructed by an assessment committee will not violate an individual's moral sensibilities, nor that
biased-testing will not interfere with a student's academic standing or psychological well-being. Students should be informed prior to matriculation that participation is mandatory and what that participation entails. Reserving students'
right to withdraw from any particular aspect of assessment might be considered.
Regarding academic freedom Erwin states, "faculty have a responsibility to
teach what is stated in institutional and program objectives" and "objectives of
any program should be determined by the faculty and student affairs staff, not
by state officials" (p. 151). Even though faculty must meet certain program objectives, faculty should not be limited to teaching program objectives, else a
"teaching to the test" mentality will permeate higher education. Academic freedom is an individual right within the academy. Although faculty may be involved in the process of developing objectives, not all faculty will agree with the
final objectives reached. Mandating compliance relegates the will of the minority to that of the majority and violates the principle of academic freedom.
Assessing Student Learning and Development makes a substantial contribution to the assessment field as a "how-to" guide for researchers, students, student affairs workers, and faculty who are unfamiliar with assessment issues.
How to implement assessment results should be next.
I. Baxter Magolda, M. B. "A Rater-training Program for Assessing Intellectual Development on the Perry Scheme." Journal ofCollege Student Personnel, 28 (1987),
2. Belenky, M., B. Clinchy, N. Goldberger, and J. Tarule. Womens Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind. New York: Basic Books, 1986.
3. Colby, A, L. Kohlberg, J. Gibbs, and M. Lieberman. "A Longitudinal Study of
Moral Judgment." Monograph of the Society for Research in Child Development,
vol. 48, no. 4, 1983.
4. Gilligan, C. In a Different Voice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
A Resource Guide for Effective Teaching in Postsecondary Education:
Planning for Competence, by Richard D. Kellough. Lanham, Md.:
University Press of America, 1990. 368 pp. $23.50 (paper)
Stockton State College
The current focus on undergraduate teaching actually reflects the need for more
effective management of student learning - for learning, the acquisition of
knowledge and skills, is what education is all about. Tying teaching to learning
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