Three Conceptual Approaches to Supporting and Promoting Student Assessment


The analyses of the national survey in Phase II identified a set of institution-wide support activities and assessment management policies and practices that were related to the use of student assessment information for educational and faculty-related decision-making. Closely related clusters of these activities lead to the identification of three different conceptual approaches to supporting student assessment. These three conceptual approaches have a different emphasis and integrate a differing set of organizational and administrative activities. The case studies reaffirmed this set of three different conceptual approaches. They are: Rational Information Based Approach, Assessment as Institutional Strategy Approach, and Human Resources Development Approach. Table 3 summarizes the dimensions linked to each of these conceptual approaches.

Table 3. – Dimensions Related to Conceptual Approaches

Conceptual Approach
Rational, Information Based Approach Institutional Strategy Approach Human Resource or Development Approach
Extent of Student Assessment Information Collected Across Various Dimensions in Institutional Approaches Domain
Mission Emphasis

Professional Development

Internal and External Purposes Internal and External Purposes Student Involvement

Increased Analysis of S/A Information
Administrative and Governance Activities Student Affairs Training

Distribution of Reports
Administrative and Faculty Support Academic Planning and Review

Access to Information
Type of Plan or Policy Faculty Evaluation

Computer Support
Formal Centralized Policy Educational Decisions

Budget Decisions
Institution-wide Planning Group Faculty Decisions

Academic Decisions (Educational and Faculty)
Breadth of Assessment Planning Group  
Responsibility for Planning Group

Rational Information-based Approach
The rational information or analytically based model reflects the extent to which institutions collect and study information on student performance. Institutions that collect a wide variety of student assessment information and do studies of or research on factors that improve student performance are more likely to use the data to make academic decisions. Furthermore, institutions that increase the access to this information to constituents across the campus by reporting it widely will also increase its use. In doing so, they increase the likelihood of the information being incorporated into the academic decision making process. This rational model relies on increased collection, analysis, and distribution of results related to student assessment, which leads to increased use in academic decision-making. This suggests careful planning and development of a student information system relegated to student assessment that links data collected more systematically to its use in decision-making.

The case study institutions all utilized this approach to a greater or lesser degree. However, Iowa State University, Wake Forest University, and Northwest Missouri State University all had well-organized approaches to collecting, analyzing and reporting student assessment data (and other data as well). They emphasized using this data rationally in their various academic management processes, in making major academic decisions, and for internal and external reporting purposes.

Assessment As Institutional Strategy Approach
A second model, the student assessment strategy model involves the focus on student assessment as an integral part in developing an institution’s mission, stressing its internal and external purposes, and developing an institution-wide pattern for supporting student assessment. By incorporating student assessment into its mission, an institution is increasing the importance of student assessment and its likely use as a means of academic decision-making and institutional improvement. Student assessment should also recognize the key external demands for student assessment from states and accrediting agencies while still recognizing the importance of incorporating it into its internal purposes in statements that guide individual units across campus. Having a clear administrative structure to support student assessment and a well-developed and coordinated plan for student assessment is also useful. Thus promoting student assessment through a clearly defined strategy, which incorporates it into the institution’s mission and purpose, provides guidelines for it, and develops structures for supporting it can become an important determinant of whether the resulting information will be incorporated into academic decisions.

Our case study institutions again varied in the extent to which they have an overall approach to student assessment. However, Iowa State University, Wake Forest University, and Northwest Missouri State University all saw student outcomes as part of their institutional mission and purpose, were sensitive to negotiating its external as well as internal purposes, and had a plan (implicit or explicit) for guiding the collection and use of student assessment data and a clear office structure or process to assume responsibility for it. They had academic management or educational improvement processes that were designed to emphasize student outcomes and to stress student assessment.

Human Resource or Development Approach
The human resource or development model, as its name indicates, suggests that institutions emphasize the involvement of people in the student assessment process. Faculty, students, and staff are all key participants in any student assessment process. This approach stresses obtaining faculty and key administrators commitment to student assessment, providing faculty and administrators with opportunities to participate in professional development and training to improve this knowledge and skills, to provide incentives for participation, and to reward their involvement in student assessment activities. The results suggest all of these types of initiatives seem to promote the using of student assessment information in decision-making and need careful, planned attention.

Although to a lesser degree than the institutional strategy or rational approaches, our case study institutions also reflected a human resource approach. To varying degrees, most had attempted to train, educate, and involve academic and student affairs administrators and faculty in understanding and using student outcomes and assessment. Some recognized the need for incentives or rewards for their participation and involvement although this was more limited and usually ad hoc. Others encouraged involvement in student assessment scholarship as a part of their professional role.

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