State Government and Regional Accreditation Association Policies for Assessment of Student Learning Tools for Policymakers and Administrators

Project Overview
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


Over the past two decades, elected and appointed state government leaders have played more active roles in setting the agenda and developing policies regarding the improvement and accountability of postsecondary education. During this period, 44 of the 50 states have adopted formal higher education assessment policies for colleges and universities to implement. Also during this period, each of the six regional accreditation associations have included assessment requirements among the standards and criteria used for self-study and external review and approval.

As with public policy in general, assessment policies vary from state to state and they include varying levels of involvement by state legislatures, governors, and policymakers. In some states, legislatures are actively involved in policy development to the point of enacting laws that require colleges and universities to conduct student assessments. In the majority of the states, the legislature and the state higher education executive officers collaborate to craft and implement an assessment policy, and have avoided formal legislation. In other states, legislatures have simply required the higher education systems to develop and implement assessment policies, and then leave the process to higher education officials.

The National Center for Postsecondary Improvement (NCPI) has examined and produced a report on the policies and practices of the 44 states that are engaged in assessment that are rooted in state policies (Nettles, Cole, & Sharp, 1997). These policies have evolved and progressed through a general policy cycle progressing from problem formation, policy formulation, policy adoption, policy implementation and policy evaluation. State policies on assessment are a very recent phenomenon in the history of American higher education. NCPI researchers have found that many factors comprise the problem formation that has influenced the evolution of state assessment policies. Included principally among these factors are the growth in the number, size and operating costs of colleges and universities, the increasing demand from private sector corporations for highly skilled labor force, and the rise of interstate competition, including competition among colleges and universities to attract high achieving students and faculty.

Several states have experienced the complete cycle and all of its stages at least once and many are working through the implementation stage for the first time. Thus far in the two short decades of state assessment policies, no state that has developed a state assessment policy has abandoned the idea; they simply proceeded to the next stage in the cycle and eventually began the process again. Regardless of the stage of the process, state policymakers typically have technical, procedural or intellectual questions that emerge for which sources are not readily available. This toolkit is designed as a source of information for policymakers who are thinking about assessment and are searching for ideas of the policies to develop in their states. It is intended to lead the reader to other sources as well as to provide information about innovations in ideas and practice that were learned conducting the NCPI research.


Rationale for the Toolkit

There are several ways in which a toolkit may be useful. First, despite intense interest in higher education, very few elected officials have emerged to their leadership roles from the ranks of the faculty or the administration of colleges and universities, and therefore may not be familiar with how these institutions function and operate. While they have general knowledge, they do not have professional expertise in the field of higher education.

Second, elected officials and policymakers tend to be mobile, moving from one committee assignment to another, rotating in and out of the legislature, or from one chamber to another. The introduction of term limits in many states' processes in the 1990s has only increased their mobility. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states have term limits, the impact of which has already occurred or will occur by 2008 (NCSL, 2000). (Two of our case study states, Missouri and Washington are included among these.)

Third, many state legislatures and policymakers inherit policies and structures from their predecessors at varying stages of development. Consequently, they often have a mandate to make adjustments and modifications to existing policies and have to reconstruct the process by evaluating the problem that the policy is intended to address.

Fourth, among elected officials, there is an increasing demand for information regarding assessment policy. Although each state has different policies and structures due to its particular culture, a natural impulse remains for policymakers to seek information about alternative strategies used by other states. We have learned, however, of the chasm between policymakers at the state level who are concerned with protecting and maximizing the public investment in higher education, and practitioners (faculty and administrators) in colleges and universities who are primarily interested in student learning. Despite the public concern of politicians for teaching and learning and the rhetoric of colleges and universities regarding their concern for the social charter of higher education, the two rarely converse about their common interest in student assessment, even when they are working to implement state assessment policy.

The primary purpose of this toolkit is to provide a comparative analysis of current assessment policies and to offer alternative assessment policy approaches and tools that are proving to be effective in implementing and evaluating the policy cycle. The intended audiences for this report are state elected officials, regional accrediting associations, and institutional planners and administrators. The toolkit provides common reference points for representatives from all sectors to consider when developing, implementing, and evaluating state policy on assessment in higher education. The state assessment policy toolkit, will enable policymakers to determine how other states and regions have constructed their assessment policies, strategies for implementation and evaluation, and offers an assessment of how these efforts are working, and what alternatives exist for effective assessment policy reform.



Outline For State Policymakers’ Assessment Toolkit


Introduction and rationale for the toolkit
Outline of the toolkit
How to use this toolkit

Project Overview

Purpose of the project
Conceptual Framework (description of components benchmarking assessment)
Literature review
State Higher Education Assessment Questionnaire
Case study research

Tools for State Self-Study

State Self-Study Framework
State & SHEEO Administrator survey
Case Studies & Protocol

State & Regional Policies

Descriptive analysis of the existing state and regional student assessment policies in the U.S

Assessment Policy Types & Models

A comparative evaluation across types of different assessment policies using common criteria

Generic models based on case studies

Policy Development

Different strategies for developing policies, analyzed by method of policy origin
The 4 methods of origination, 11 stages of development

Instruments and Measurement

A listing and description of the variety of instruments, processes, and methods for measuring teaching and learning at the institutional level

Data Collection and Analysis

Sample databases, indicators, and methods for analysis and that are used in state assessment programs and of value to policymakers


A selected bibliography of scholarly work on state policy for college and university assessment over the past two decades

Publications List

Project publications and reports


How to Use this Tool Kit

Needs vary depending on whether user is from SHEEO, legislature, executive, or state system administration/institution
Will also depend on whether user seeks to begin developing a state policy, is interested in bringing policy options to implementation, or desires to evaluate and revise an existing state assessment policy
Users can either read about the research and findings, or link directly to sections above that are relevant to their interests

Users can
Access published documents from project research
Read the findings from all three phases of the research
Obtain a copy of the instrument used to survey SHEEO administrators that could be adapted for use at the regional accreditation, system administration, or institutional levels, or used to inquire about policymakers attitudes for assessment in higher education
Find detailed methodologies and guiding documents regarding how to examine state policy development
Read about the existing practices in all the states and regional accreditation associations
Use the generic models of assessment policy structure and data collection and reporting to formulate policy options for their state


On this page

Rationale for the Toolkit

Outline for Toolkit

How to use the Toolkit

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