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Assessment Results: Transparent or Not?

University Business, Feb 2012

Institutional transparency is much talked about and touted, but it apparently has a long way to go. According to an analysis of the degree to which colleges and universities make available what they’re doing to assess student learning, institutions could be sharing a lot more and doing so more clearly. For example, often, assessment results are found only on internal institutional research web pages that aren’t routinely searched by prospective students, parents, and other interested parties.

The report, “Making Student Learning Evidence Transparent: The State of the Art,” from the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a collaborative project between Indiana University and the University of Illinois, is based on a study of the websites of 200 colleges and universities. Researchers looked at how institutions display assessment results, the progress higher ed has made in the past few years with institutional transparency, and the impact of national transparency initiatives to encourage schools to report such information. Key findings include:

  • Public institutions and those accredited since 2008 showed more assessment information than independent institutions and those not recently accredited.
  • Information about student learning is being reported more often on college websites than previously, yet it appears to represent only a fraction of the assessment activity under way. 
  • When colleges share the results of student learning assessments, rarely is the information presented in an easy-to-read form or tailored to a specific audience. 
  • More than half of all institutions studied posted assessment results online, but only a third offered examples of how they’re using results. 
  • None of those examined presented information about whether the results led to improved learning following changes in teaching and learning approaches or in policies and other practices.

The report provides recommendations for enhancing transparency of evidence of student learning and subsequent use, including using the NILOA Transparency Framework.