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#32. Assessment Uses

A series of assessment-related questions in the Carnegie application fall into a category we are calling "Uses of Results." In the 1st-timer's application, these 7 uses questions correspond to a question about assessment mechanisms, and sometimes also a question about assessment findings. In the Reclassifyer's application, you'll more commonly see these topics of assessment mechanisms, findings, and uses all lumped into one question.

Think of the uses of assessment as the ripples that appear after a drop of water falls into your freshly brewed tea. The ripples spread out, making waves that outlast the event of water hitting the surface. That is what these questions are asking. If the assessment mechanisms and findings were the "What" questions, then the Uses of Assessment are the "so what" question.

What qualifies something as assessment?

Assessment is sometimes mistaken for the act of measuring something or collecting data, when, in fact, we are constantly collecting data in every facet of our lives and rarely does that mean we are conducting assessment.

Assessment has everything to do with the ways we employ the findings that result from our analysis of the data we collected. Only when we employ the findings to improve the process and results of the program or partnership we measured do all the activities we did to arrive at that first moment of use truly constitute "assessment."

There are two common approaches to answering the "uses" questions.

1. To improve assessment practices.

a. This is a very common practice among newbies. Often, the first thing you will notice about your data is that it doesn't reflect what you were trying to learn or what you most care about knowing. So, this is not a bad thing and this step should not be skipped. However, some accreditation bodies have become impatient with this category of response. Perhaps because the purpose of assessment is decidedly not to do further assessment. It is to discover knowledge about the program that can be applied to strengthen the program. So the standard use of improving assessment does not appease reviewers for long.

2. To improve the program

a. This is the spirit of assessment: connecting decision-makers and stakeholders with information they need to make well-informed decisions. This means making sure the data is connecting to decision-makers, in some cases to administrators, committees, and faculty facing important decisions, like what to prioritize in a strategic plan, etc. Other times this data is used to prepare direct program stakeholders to make the most of the program, and other times to help the program harness the knowledge from the assessment to strengthen their work.

One last word on the focus of the assessment uses

I strongly urge in these last cases that the metric for successful use of the assessment findings relates to quality of the process, partnership, or results. Avoid focusing on quantity as much as possible. Reporting to Carnegie that having the data helped your campus "do" more community engagement is more likely to hurt you than help you.

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Heather Mack Consulting, LLC

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