An Overview of the Project

State Self-Study Tools
State and Regional Policies
Assessment Policy Types and Models
Policy Development
Inventory of Instruments and Measurements
Data Collection and Analysis
Publications and Presentations


The National Center for Postsecondary Improvement (NCPI) is a national research and development center funded by a six-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI). NCPI strives to provide leadership for the transformation and improvement of postsecondary education—including research universities and comprehensive colleges to community colleges and vocational-technical schools.

NCPI's Student Learning and Assessment project focused on examining the assessment mechanisms that enhance student learning. The project included three different research strands related to learning and assessment:

(1) a focus on state policies and regional accreditation practices,
(2) organizational and administrative support for student assessment at the institutional level, and
(3) academic programs and student learning. The work of the second and third can be viewed by following the links to those projects in the box at right.

The state policy and regional accreditation research examined state-level policies and regional accreditation association criteria and standards regarding assessment in higher education for the improvement of teaching and learning. Project researchers have been primarily responsible for researching the dynamics and effects of the assessment policies and practices of regional accrediting associations and state governments. The ultimate goal of the project has been to develop an understanding of the relationships among state and regional accrediting association policies and practices in higher education regarding student assessment, and how policy actors at each of these levels influence the policies and practices adopted by the others. Taking into account the interactions of key policy actors and the context in which they operate, this research allows us to consider the interactions between different levels as a factor in the evolution of assessment policies and practices. The research project considers that assessment policy and practices are influenced by actions at the following levels: regional accrediting association, state government (including the executive and legislative branches), SHEEO, state higher education system, and institution. More specifically, the project focuses on the relationships between regional and state assessment policies and practices and the improvement of teaching and learning at public institutions of higher education.


Description of the Research

During the project’s first and second years, researchers wrote to the state higher education executive officers in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, to request all policy documentation relating to state-level assessment activity. Researchers also wrote to the six regional accrediting associations to request all policy documentation relating to regional-level assessment activity. Researchers collected, reviewed, and synthesized these policy documents, resulting in Benchmarking Assessment, a report that offered a comparative analysis of assessment activities in all states and adapted a policy analysis framework for examining the stages of the assessment policy process at the state level. The report also provided an historical overview of the state’s role in assessment in public higher education, a review of recent surveys conducted on the subject, and a profile of the assessment policies and practices of each state and each regional accrediting association.

Drawing on this report, in the second and third years, researchers developed a survey instrument to explore in greater detail the findings and trends discussed in Benchmarking Assessment; the State Higher Education Assessment Questionnaire (SHEAQ) was sent to all 50 state higher education academic officers (excluding Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia), further exploring many of the trends and themes that emerged from the analysis of the state-level assessment policy documents. This report has been excerpted in the “Landscape” section of Change magazine, shared with numerous officials in state governments, regional and disciplinary accrediting associations, professional organizations, and institutions around the country, and selected results from this report have been presented at ASHE, AERA, and EAIR conferences during the last six years. The findings and discussion of the analysis of the SHEAQ are also available.

During the third year, researchers conducted an extensive literature review on the state role in higher education and considered the implications of this literature for state assessment policy research, which also informed the development of the case study research approach. This report, revised to include preliminary results and interpretations from the state academic officer survey, is a chapter in the book, The States and Public Higher Education Policy: Affordability, Access, and Accountability, edited by Donald Heller. Findings from the state academic officer survey also formed the basis of an article discussing the effects of state assessment policy on urban campuses that appeared in a special assessment issue of Metropolitan Universities in 1999.

During the project’s fourth and fifth years, case study research was conducted. The case studies were designed to provide researchers with the opportunity to interview assessment policymakers at the regional and state levels. In this sense, the case studies were a logical progression of the project’s three-year research efforts. Based on the analysis of the responses to the SHEAQ questionnaire, and a synthesis of the literature review, researchers developed an interview protocol consisting of questions and issues to be raised during the case studies. Site visits were conducted in five states: Florida, Missouri, New York, South Carolina, and Washington. The Final Case Study Report was completed in 2002.

The final product of this research project is the State Policymakers’ Assessment Toolkit for states to use in formulating, or reforming, their assessment policies. The data collected and findings reached during our six-year project has been used to develop multiple policy models for states and associations to use as they grapple with the complexities of assessment, accountability, and the improvement of teaching and learning. These assessment policy models are designed to serve the needs of a variety of different audiences. Included among these audiences are state legislators and staff, state higher education executive officers and agencies, state assessment officers, regional accrediting association officers, boards of trustees/regents, campus executive officers, institutional assessment officers, faculty, and assessment scholars and researchers.

Based on all of this project's research, this toolkit provides an analysis of specific state assessment initiatives, offers models for policy structure and data collection, and makes recommendations to states about the most effective and efficient methods of implementing particular types of initiatives, depending on a state’s needs, interests, and political and economic context.



On this page

Project Purpose

Description of Project Research

Related Resources

Elaboration on Project Research

Conceptual Framework for State Analysis

Project Research

Organizational and administrative support for student assessment toolkit

Student learning and assessment toolkit

© 2003, National Center for Postsecondary Improvement, headquartered at the
Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research