Assessment – A Ten Letter Word

Victoria College lives in Texas. Not a surprising fact (hopefully). Although, to be fair, I’m reasonably sure Canada, Australia, and India have or had Victoria Colleges of their own. We are the one in Texas, which is important.

Because of our location, we follow the Texas Core Curriculum. Let me tell you a story, a story about a statistics course, some students, and one very befuddled me.

You see, I thought I taught a statistics course. I do after all have a great many graduate hours in mathematics. I even had a copy of the syllabus from the previous semester. I didn’t worry about existential crises such as “Where do course descriptions come from?” Life was selfishly good.

Of course, one day I realised I don’t actually teach a statistics course. I teach a statistics section. A course is an idea – an idea enshrined by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). They give course descriptions along with learning outcomes for both Workforce Education (WECM) and Academic Courses (ACGM).

Okay, so I was teaching a statistics section. No big deal. I knew I was teaching statistics, and I knew I was teaching a particular section because I had a course description and student learning outcomes. A lot of hard work and a couple of degrees meant I had a framework to teach such things. All the same, I crafted lessons from the important ideas of statistics, assigned reading and homework based on those ideas, and gave exams that measured student performance. I took those all and signed a form stating my students earned various letter grades by end of term.

If you want to know how students are doing overall in a course, you just have to pull the data about all the sections of that course. We call those grades, and analysis is easy. Courses are very discipline specific, and here at Victoria College we only allow folks to teach sections if they meet certain criteria, usually 18 graduate hours in relevant subject matter.

But of course, statistics is part of Mathematics, which is a Foundational Component Area. The thing is, a foundational component area is all of mathematics. If we want to know how the component or program is doing, well, we need to first get all the faculty together with expertise in that area and ask them “What should every student who earns an ABC in any mathematics course be able to do and know?”  We did this at Victoria College. Not just for math – we did it for all nine Foundational Component Areas (FCA) although we call them ‘program level outcomes’ sometimes. I like calling them FCAs myself because that is what the Texas Coord Board (THECB) calls them and my acronym memory is almost full.

If you want to know how students in a component area are doing, well, you have to assess. You’ll have your assessment coordinator for your division emailing everyone letting you know when it is time to collect data. Of course, just because we don’t collect data in a particular semester doesn’t mean that “using mathematical skills by interpreting models and drawing inferences to develop convincing arguments” doesn’t happen that semester. Such ideas happen all the time, we just don’t have to report them quite as frequently as we do letter grades.

However, Foundational Component Areas are also part of the Texas Core Curriculum. How do we measure a core objective such as critical thinking? First of all, we have to remember to whom we owe such a measurement. Section measurements we owe to ourselves, as discipline experts. Program measurements we owe to our peers in our departments – so we must pull some extra data from our sections. Core Objectives we owe to all our faculty peers across campus. That is bigger – much bigger!

Just like with the Foundational Component Areas, it would be good if the people responsible got together and agreed on what and how we measure. In fact, we all did, and created core objective rubrics which you can find in the Pirate Portal, under the Faculty Resources tab, in the Faculty Tools & Resources box, under Faculty Assessment. You can also just click here.

If you want to know how students are doing for core objectives, well, you have to assess. You’ll have your assessment coordinator for your division emailing everyone letting you know when it is time to collect data. Because this is campus wide, you’ll find we use stratified sampling to make sure we look at student created work/objects/artefacts for evidence of core objective knowledge. Of course, just because we don’t collect data in a particular semester doesn’t mean that “ability to connect choices, actions and consequences to ethical decision-making” doesn’t matter that semester. Such ideas happen all the time, we just don’t have to report them quite as frequently as we do letter grades.

Are you curious what the nine foundational component areas are? Take a look! Notice each area also maps to at least two core objectives.

All this is a lot to take in; I’ve spent three years or so being the assessment coordinator for Science, Mathematics, and Physical Education. I work closely with the other coordinators as we synchronise those top two layers of assessment across our entire college. It still took three years for all this to start to make sense in my head. If you want (or need) to learn more about how your course fits into this larger ecosystem, please consider taking an assessment workshop here at CAPE. We have a calendar app that will give you more information about current and future workshops. I promise we’ll help you become an expert in much less than three years!

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professorwiley

Matt Wiley is a tenured, associate professor of mathematics with awards in both mathematics education and honour student engagement. He earned an assortment of degrees in computer science, business, and pure mathematics from the University of California and Texas A&M systems. He is the director of quality enhancement at Victoria College, assisting in the development and implementation of a comprehensive assessment program to enhance institutional performance outcomes. A programmer, a published author, a mathematician, and a transformational leader, Matt has always melded his passion for writing with his joy of logical problem solving and data science. From the boardroom to the classroom, he enjoys finding dynamic ways to partner with interdisciplinary and diverse teams to make complex ideas and projects understandable and solvable.

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