WSU’s Pullman English Composition Program has used English 101 (College Composition) assessment results to guide professional development for instructors and to start conversations across campuses to increase the shared understanding of instructors about the learning outcomes and expectations for student achievement.

Building on the longstanding practice of portfolio review sessions and discussion by English 101 instructors, Beth Buyserie, Interim Director of Composition, began working with the Office of Assessment of Teaching and Learning in Fall 2017 to develop an embedded assessment process that allowed English 101 instructors to provide data for program assessment while they were determining final course grades. English 101 instructors submitted a short report on holistic student achievement of course outcomes, as demonstrated in students’ final portfolios, and provided comments which shed light about areas where the program excelled and what the program still needed to focus on. (For more information about English 101 and the Holistic Assessment Project, see Student Learning at the Foundational Level: AY 2017-18 English 101 Pilot Holistic Skills Assessment.)

Using Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment Data: Instructors Discuss and Interpret Results

Quantitative results provided a dashboard of student achievement, which Buyserie shared with instructors, as a way to view and monitor student achievement of learning outcomes. These quantitative data showed that most students were meeting or exceeding expectations for English 101, affirming the overall effectiveness of the course design. (As reported in the AY 2017-18 English 101 Holistic Skills Assessment Summary of Key Evidence for UCORE, quantitative results also contribute to UCORE’s assessment of student learning in key first year courses.)  

Qualitative results informed changes to instruction. Additionally, the English 101 committee reviewed and discussed the rich qualitative observations provided by instructors. The qualitative results allowed the committee to identify important themes and areas for improvement. Buyserie explained, “Based on the 2017-18 assessment results, we consulted the literature on pedagogy for information literacy, including a variety of ways to teach writing from sources and using citations, which we then embedded in professional development opportunities throughout the semester. Ultimately, the qualitative assessment data helped our faculty hone in on specific areas for attention, strengthening our program’s community of practice, and helped us make good use of our collective time.”

Assessment data illuminated areas to improve cross-campus alignment.  In addition to reviewing aggregated assessment results, program leadership in Pullman, Tri-Cities, and Vancouver also looked at assessment data disaggregated across campuses. Data provided opportunities for cross-campus discussions as a way to strengthen the composition program state wide.

Implications for Assessment Practice: Valuing Informed Judgement

English 101’s uses of assessment for collegial discussions among instructors and campus leadership provides a timely model at WSU.  Increasingly, at all levels, the WSU community recognizes and values diverse approaches to instruction, course and curriculum design, in order to leverage the unique strengths of each campus, faculty, and students — while still meeting the program learning goals for students, regardless of location.

“The use of assessment in English 101 for these important discussions serves faculty and students, and, in this case, helps advance foundational writing skills that prepare students for subsequent coursework, explains Mary Wack, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.  “The key to using such assessment is connecting program instructors — who are familiar with the course content, students, and tasks — to interpret the results in context.”

Assessment results can inform continual reflection and discussion of teaching and learning.  Decisions to support effective teaching and learning in a program may include choosing to make changes, continuing current effective practices, or building on strengths.  For additional information about how student learning evidence contributes to decision-making intended to support student learning and quality educational programs, see Use of Student Learning Evidence.