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UW-Madison named to inaugural class of Excellence in Assessment designees

August 22, 2016 By Greg Bump

MADISON The University of Wisconsin–Madison is being recognized as a national leader in performance-based student assessment.

UW-Madison Monday was named as one of just 10 members of the inaugural class of Excellence in Assessment (EIA) designees. EIA is a new national program aimed at recognizing universities that conduct a comprehensive assessment of student learning outcomes as a means to drive internal improvement and advance student success.

The program — the first national designation of its kind — spotlights institutions successfully integrating assessment practices across campus, providing evidence of student learning outcomes, and using assessment results to guide institutional decision-making and improve student performance.

Sarah Mangelsdorf, the new provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, is pictured in her Bascom Hall office. She succeeds Paul DeLuca, who spent over four decades at the UW.

Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf says it’s a “fantastic honor” for UW–Madison to be recognized as a national leader in performance-based student assessment.

“This designation is a fantastic honor, and a fitting one, as there are many on campus who are committed to enhancing the student experience by improving our assessment practices,” Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf says. “We have developed an integrated process for assessing and improving student learning that operates both horizontally and vertically, and we have campuswide participation, which is crucial.”

The institution has integrated assessment into the educational experience through a formalized assessment plan, an assessment fund to support campus and program projects, and an assessment committee of faculty and academic leaders to oversee and advance student learning. In 2008, UW–Madison adopted the Essential Learning Outcomes promulgated by the Association of American Colleges & Universities as overarching learning goals for undergraduate programs.

“Since 2014, UW–Madison has made documented progress and is currently in the second year of a three-year initiative to collect learning goals and assessment plans from every academic program,” says Mo Bischof, associate vice provost and co-author of the EIA proposal with Jocelyn Milner, vice provost for academic affairs. Adds Bischof: “We are now establishing a reporting and renewal cycle and have nearly reached our goal of 100 percent participation by academic programs at all levels.”

Kristin Eschenfelder, director of the School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) at UW–Madison, says the school created an assessment committee and a regular assessment activity cycle that guides collection, analysis, reporting and consideration of assessment results to improve the student experience.

Using assessment data, SLIS created a one-credit course addressing the topic of leadership and a leadership certificate program as part of their master’s degree. Assessment data has also been used to redesign the SLIS online career services resources, change how courses are scheduled to make them more accessible to students, redesign student awards information websites to encourage more students to apply for awards, provide input to a major curricular revision completed in 2016, and redesign course modules and assignments so students have more support in obtaining program-level learning outcomes.

“Incorporating assessment practices has made us more responsive to our students’ needs and has guided us as we update curriculum,” Eschenfelder says.

“As we explore new pedagogies and new instructional technologies, UW’s systematic approach to assessment will keep student learning front and center, where it belongs.”

John Zumbrunnen

John Zumbrunnen, professor of political science and chair of UW’s Teaching, Learning and Technology Madison Advisory Group, notes that assessment plays an important role in the university’s Educational Innovation initiative. Ongoing efforts to develop blended instructional models, to expand online course offerings, and to rethink how large lecture courses are taught all involve fundamental course redesign.

Such course redesign begins with the careful identification of learning outcomes and of ways to assess students’ progress towards those outcomes. Assessment at the course level can then be aligned with program- and campus-level assessment efforts, all in the service of student learning, he says.

“As we explore new pedagogies and new instructional technologies,” Zumbrunnen says, “UW’s systematic approach to assessment will keep student learning front and center, where it belongs.”

The sponsors of the EIA program are the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA), a public college and university transparency initiative led by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), in partnership with the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) and the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).