Student Learning and Assessment: A National Study


NCPI's Student Learning and Assessment project examines assessment mechanisms that enhance student learning at three levels. One part of the project focuses on state policies and regional accreditation practices. Another examines the organizational and administrative support for student assessment at the institutional level, and the third focuses on academic programs and student learning. The result of five years of research, the institutional assessment project examined the way in which college and university organizational and administrative patterns support and promote the use of student assessment for academic improvement.

The study consisted of three phases:

  • Phase I examined what was already known about how institutions engaged in, supported, and used student assessment. It consisted of an extensive review of the student assessment literature and a report entitled, Improving the Organizational and Administrative Support for Student Assessment (1997). From this review, seven domains of organizational activity emerged and were used to create a Conceptual Framework, which served as the basis for the second and third phases of the study.

  • Phase II developed a survey instrument, Inventory of Institutional Support for Student Assessment (ISSA, 1999), and conducted a national survey of institution's involvement with, their organizational and administrative support for, and their uses of student assessment. The survey was sent to all two-year and four-year institutions (excluding proprietary schools) offering undergraduate education. Of the 2,524 surveys sent, 1,394 institutions responded for a 55 percent response rate. Detailed results from the national survey were compiled in a report, Institutional Support for Student Assessment: Methodology and Results of a National Survey (Technical Report, 1999) and the associated tables. After analyzing the response patterns, a number of institutions were identified as having been actively engaged in measuring, promoting, supporting, and using student assessment. These institutions were contacted and asked to take part in the third phase of our study.

  • Phase III analyzed the organizational dynamics that were present in these institutions. It involved comparative case studies of seven institutions identified in Phase II. Researchers collected documents, conducted interviews, and gathered other relevant information about the institutions' approach to, support for, management policies and practices for, and uses of student assessment. Additionally, researchers identified all administrators involved in student assessment and randomly selected 200 tenure-track faculty and sent them a survey instrument, Institutional Climate for Student Assessment (ICSA, 2000). This instrument was parallel in structure to the ISSA inventory instrument but measures institutional participant's views of involvement and satisfaction with student assessment on their campus. Case studies for each institution were prepared including a summary of their institutional climate survey results. A cross case comparison was also conducted to identify useful strategies for student assessment. For more detail on the case studies in Phase III, see Student Assessment in Higher Education: A Comparative Study of Seven Institutions (2001).

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