• September 17, 2014

Making Assessment Work

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Accreditors are increasingly requiring assessment of student learning to become a focus for post-secondary institutions. The increased importance placed on assessment is not without good reason. Student learning is an important outcome of higher education. With increasing accreditation and public pressure, student learning should be more important to colleges and universities than it ever has. What is important should be measured and what is measured can be improved.

Case in point, Kaplan University (KU) is a for-profit, career oriented university where learning is not just one of the important outcomes it is the most important outcome. More specifically, Kaplan University’s focus is student learning that will materialize into positive career outcomes for its students. With this mission in mind, Kaplan University spent four years planning, developing and implementing Course Level Assessment (CLA), a system specifically designed to close the loop between measurement and improved student outcomes.

CLA is multi-tiered assessment system mapping course level learning goals to program level learning goals. Each of the 1,000 courses contains an average of four to six learning goals that map to one or more of the program learning objectives. Assessment against these outcomes is comprehensive; every outcome is assessed for every student, every term in every course. The Learning outcomes and scoring rubrics that appear in the online grade book all come from a common data repository. The instructor scores the assessment directly in the online gradebook and the data automatically feed back into the data repository. By linking those objectives, rubrics, and assessment data, we can compare student achievement on any specific objective for a course across any number of instructors, sections, or terms with the confidence that the same assessment was used, addressing the same learning objective, graded with the same rubric.  

The data mapping enables rapid and sophisticated analytics that supports a tight feedback loop. Another design element of CLA that enhances a short feedback cycle is the proximity of the assessment to the learning event. This is a key differentiator of Kaplan’s CLA. While other strategies can produce reliable evidence of student learning, they are far removed from the actual learning to pin-point any specific deficiency in curriculum or instruction.  By combining assessments linked directly to specific learning and automated data analytics, CLA provides a platform to rapidly test and improve curriculum whether on-ground or on-line.

With the technology foundation for CLA fully in place, KU evaluated curricular changes in 221 courses with assessment data. The results showed that 44% of the revisions produced statistically significant improvements while only 23% led to decreases. The CLA system is the cornerstone of all programs to analyze these interventions and make evidence based decisions about course offerings that drive student outcomes.

By tapping into this deep insight, innovative models and world wide reach of Kaplan, one of the worlds largest diversified education companies, Kaplan Global Solutions helps institutions of higher education design, manage and grow new self-sustaining online academic programs that minimize institutional investment and help assure successful student and business outcomes.

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