About Sacramento State PEMSA Division Assessment
In 2005 the Sr. Vice President for Planning, Enrollment Management and Student Affairs (PEMSA) partnered with the Office of Institutional Research (Academic Affairs) to launch the division’s comprehensive, outcomes-based assessment program. From the first year on, the assessment efforts were embraced (with a little nudging from the Sr. VP) by each of the division's twenty or so directors. The expectation then, as it is now, was that each director, in conjunction with his or her staff, would identify several program objectives and learning outcomes to be tracked, measured, and reported on during the course of the year. Eight years later, assessment efforts have become an integral part of the "everyday" work of managers and staff within the division.
The division’s movement to make assessment commonplace was fueled by several catalysts. Some of these included: the public posting of reports-in-progress and outcomes achieved on the division’s main webpage; commenting on assessment activities as part of the directors’ annual evaluation; dedicating one or more directors’ meetings and/or retreats to assessment strategies each semester; identifying on- and off-campus assessment "consultants" to assist with outcomes formulation and instruments design; and utilizing of a consistent reporting template to organize the annual assessment activities.
Importantly, the current assessment program reflects the division’s success in moving, to a large extent, from a program-improvement/student-satisfaction-based initiative to a student-learning-based one. As mentioned above, each department within PEMSA has been expected, for the last several years, to formulate 3-4 student learning outcomes or program objectives related to departmental mission, goals, and divisional priorities. At least one of those outcomes must be a "student-learning" oriented one with measurable outcomes associated with it.
In the early stages of assessment, directors formulated student learning outcomes that relied on “self-reported” or other indirect measures (i.e., asking students to report, in their own opinion, whether their knowledge had increased by participating in program X or workshop Y). These self-reported (indirect) measures did not capture or verify what participants actually learned by participating in the event. Now, as the Division has become increasingly proficient and well-versed in institutional assessment processes, its SLOs have evolved accordingly. Today, many of the student learning outcomes departments assess are sophisticated and directly measured (i.e., through rubric-scored essays and portfolios of student work; direct observation as students demonstrate, via role-plays, etc., skills they have gained; pre-/post-test comparisons). In other words, many of the SLOs departments now formulate can better show the extent to which students’ attitudes (even behaviors) have changed. These more recent SLOs can also “get to” the “added value” the programs gave to those who participated. This reflects an important shift: early on, it was the call to assess that drove the assessments; however, now, it is the determination and improvement of what students actually learn that drives the assessment.
Furthermore, with the implementation of the CSU Graduation Initiative and its goals of increasing retention and graduation rates across the CSU as well as closing the achievement gap between traditionally under-represented minority students (URM) and non-URM students by 2015, directors are now encouraged to assess learning outcomes and program objectives connected to these efforts.
Finally, some areas of PEMSA are beginning to look at other kinds of outcomes which do not easily fit under “program objective” or “learning outcome” labels; rather, units such as Student Health & Counseling Services are attempting to assess their clients’ change in behavior: for example, whether students engage in exercise more often after learning about its benefits, use alcohol more responsibly after an intervention connected with the student conduct process, or their BMI changes favorably after taking part in a “healthy eating” challenge.