At Grand Canyon University, assessment is defined as the process of gathering and discussing information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what students know, understand, and can do with their knowledge as a result of their educational experiences. This process culminates when assessment results are used to improve subsequent learning (Huba and Freed, 2000). The elements of the assessment process are as follows:
1. Formulate statements of intended learning outcomes
2. Develop or select assessment measures
3. Create experiences leading to outcomes
4. Discuss and use assessment results to improve learning
Thus, an assessment is an activity that yields comprehensive information for analyzing, discussing, and judging a learner's performance of valued abilities and skills and the effectiveness of the University at all levels in supporting and enhancing the student learning process.
Moreover, assessment is composed of a set of recursive processes through which student learning can be continuously improved. These processes involve the following:
1. Gathering data from diverse sources about the effectiveness of student learning at GCU, as well as other indicators of institutional effectiveness
2. Analyzing the data gathered
3. Using the evidence resulting from analysis to drive improvement initiatives
4. In other words, at GCU assessment is a form of academic action inquiry that aligns with the cohering institutional theme, "Say It, Do It, Prove It."
GCU's faculty-driven, course-embedded, and performance-based approach to the assessment and improvement of student learning is in concert with the AAHE's Nine Principles of Good Practice for Assessment of Student Learning.
The assessment of student learning begins with educational values.
1. Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, integrated, and something revealed in performance over time.
2. Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes.
3. Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the experiences that lead to those outcomes.
4. Assessment works best when it is ongoing, not episodic.
5. Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved.
6. Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about.
7. Assessment is most likely to lead to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change.
8. Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public.
Assessment and Improvement at GCU
In order to establish a coherent, university-wide, continuous assessment and improvement process which rests on a strong foundation of action inquiry, GCU has created and started to implement the following:
1. Identify and clearly articulate what the University wants and needs to know.
2. Select the best direct, performance-based measures and the best indirect measures to collect each type of assessment data needed.
3. Determine which collection tools, instruments, and processes are already in place to collect this data, as well as what data has already been collected
4. Evaluate the existing collection tools, instruments, and processes to ascertain if desired data is being appropriately collected.
5. Adjust collection tools, instruments, and processes to ensure that necessary data is collected.
6. Collect the data.
7. Analyze the data.
8. Put a feedback loop in place to improve student learning and institutional effectiveness.
9. Repeat from step 1 at the end of an assessment cycle to establish the parameters of a new cycle, and establish a university-wide continuous improvement process.
Essential to institutionalization of assessment and continuous improvement is the development of a culture of assessment among faculty, staff, and students. Because culture is an integrated pattern of knowledge, belief, and behavior that arises from the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations, cultural change is necessary for creation of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that will cause an assessment mindset to pervade all levels of an institution. The resulting establishment of wide-spread reflective practice and acquired evaluative expertise will then characterize the University community and its commitment to a culture of assessment.