Hi all, 
I'm struggling right now with an issue, and I'm wondering if I am just
being stubborn.  I'm interested in hearing what the rest of you have to

I am a trained evaluation/programmatic assessment professional, having
taken a number of courses in this area in my bachelors, masters and PhD
programs.  I have spent most of the past 20 years, in one way or
another, doing evaluative research, particularly in learning assistance,
developmental education and special admissions on my campus.  Over that
time, I have always felt fairly confident that I knew what I was doing. 
The evaluative work that I have done has resulted in significant
positive changes in the programs I work with.   I sit on the University
Assessment Panel on our campus.  I have written numerous assessments for
our division and have been an advisor to many others on campus.  

But now...."STUDENT LEARNING OUTCOMES" is doing me in.. 

I'm feeling like I no longer know what I'm doing. I don't know how to
resolve the conflict in my head between doing this SLOs-thing in my
areas of responsibility and doing what I feel is thorough and effective
assessment. And now, thanks to the Higher Ed Commission etc, that are
pushing SLOs as the be-all and end-all in assessment, I feel as useful
as a button hook.  And I am worried that as many of my peers are
convinced (required?) to switch to this model, are we doing justice to
evaluation of our programs?  Are we learning all we need to know from
assessment to deliver the best services we can. 

I oversee tutoring and supplemental instruction and a number of other
programs.  I work with the DE courses on our campus to help them assess
the effectiveness of their curriculum with specially admitted students. 
I help assess the effectiveness of admissions standards for special
admissions, effectiveness of placement testing in developmental
coursework and on and on and on.  And I have found that SLOs alone do
not really cover everything that quality assessment should do.  In my
opinion good, sound evaluation of the services and courses we provide go
beyond this.  And in some cases, I find the SLOs (e.g. helping tutored
students become better critical thinkers) to be so obtuse and difficult
to measure, particularly using the sacred DIRECT measures, that they
don't seem meaningful in my pragmatic view of how to determine if a
program is effective.  

I come from the view that assessment in our field should be retention
based.  Maybe I'm too pragmatic.  To me, retention and graduation, NOT
SLOs are the bottom line for the institution.  They are how my program
is evaluated by upper level administrators.  They are the measures used
to determine how limited resources are prioritized and allocated across
campus.  They are the ultimate measure of whether or not an institution
is doing all it can to support its students.  And they seem a lot easier
to understand than something like a measure of how well our students
think critically on a likert scale survey.  I'm sorry, but I just don't
see the President making a decision to choose something based on a
wobbly measure critical thinking from a survey (and I've looked at lots
of the surveys) over solid institutional research stats that show
increase in retention of 10%.  Don't get me wrong, critical thinking is
valuable, and measuring it is important.  But the slant that SLOs create
in assessment are moving towards behavioral measures of learning alone
rather than all the aspects of satisfaction, effectiveness,
cause/effect, longitudinal patterns of retention, etc. 

So help me out.  Am I struggling with this for no reason?  Are other
struggling with the same thing?  Is this one of those things we do until
the next trend moves forward?  And, despite all my training and
experience, am I past my prime as an assessment person?  Or just being
stubborn.  And lastly, do I need to become more vocal at my institution
about what is being omitted from assessment as we all jump on the SLOs
band wagon?

Thanks for your thoughts.  And for letting me whine.

Shevawn Eaton, Ph.D.
Director, ACCESS/ESP
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115
PH: (815) 753-0581

FAX: (815) 753-4115

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