SVCC HLC Self-Study Document

Sauk Valley Community College
HLC Self-Study Document

September 19-21, 2011

3A: Learning Outcomes Clearly Stated

Sauk Valley Community College's goals for student learning outcomes are clearly stated for each educational program and make effective assessment possible.

3A.1: Faculty-Driven System

Assessment of academic achievement at Sauk is a faculty-driven system for which all of the student learning outcomes, including course outcomes, area and program outcomes, and general education competencies have been developed and are regularly reviewed by faculty. In addition, with oversight and approval by administration, the design and maintenance of the system is entirely the responsibility of two groups of faculty:

  • Faculty Area Facilitators: For assessment purposes, the college faculty is divided into eight areas of related courses. Five of these contain the General Education Core Competency Areas (Social Sciences, Physical Sciences, Humanities/Fine Arts, Communication, and Mathematics) and the remaining are Career Program groupings (Health Careers, Technology, and Business). Each of these areas is led by an Area Facilitator, a compensated faculty member who is responsible for calling meetings, moderating discussions, and providing leadership in assessment efforts. In 2008, the role of the Area Facilitators was expanded to include operational planning and program review for their respective areas. In addition, each Area Facilitator is a member of either the Organizational Planning and Improvement Committee (OPIC) or the Assessment Committee, providing faculty input on those important oversight committees.
  • Faculty Core Team: The primary driver of the academic assessment system is the Core Team, a subcommittee of the Assessment Committee (link to an appendixAppendix). The Core Team consists of four faculty Area Facilitators, two or more additional faculty members, and a representative from Instructional Technology. As of 2009, the Director of Academic Development has been added in order to coordinate a developmental education assessment component of the system. The Vice President of Academic Services is an ex officio member of the Core Team, serving primarily as liaison to the President’s Cabinet. The Core Team's primary function is to oversee the assessment system, which is articulated in a formal Assessment Plan (link to an appendixAppendix). In addition to providing leadership, planning, and system evaluation, the Core Team coordinates assessment-related discussions, activities, and projects.

3A.2: Clear Goals and Outcomes

According to the Sauk Valley Community College Assessment Plan (2010), the college’s assessment system “exists to measure the degree which our instructional practices work in support of the organizing principles of the college, including the Mission, Vision, and Shared Values.” To carry out this directive, the assessment system articulates four institution-level assessment goals. These over-arching goals were developed by the faculty to guide the development of the 2003 Assessment Plan and have remained the organizing principle of the system:

  • Goal 1: Transfer - Students will demonstrate skills and knowledge necessary to complete further work in their chosen field.

    The 2003 assessment plan divided the transfer goal into Disciplines (any A.S. degree offered in the catalog) and Areas (the General Education Core Curriculum areas described in the catalog). In this design, faculty in each discipline established a set of outcomes and collected, analyzed, and acted upon the data collected through classroom assessment. Areas would then, according to the plan, aggregate the data from across the appropriate disciplines to analyze and act upon in relation to specific outcomes established at the area level. A 2009 Gap Analysis showed that the system was too complex to be maintained: a small, multi-disciplinary faculty was overburdened and the single-person-discipline instructors found little value in assessment in isolation. As a result, the 100% participation of full-time faculty in collecting discipline-level data that marked the first two years of the system had eroded. As can be seen in Figure 3i, significant holes had developed in the discipline data: Of the 35 disciplines, 83% had no documentation of new data in FY09.

    The same analysis found, however, that where a group of faculty was working together on a project, whether a multi-faculty discipline or an area, the data was more rigorously collected, discussed, and acted upon. In fact, in FY10, area projects had been conducted in 100% of the transfer areas. As a result, in 2010, the system was revised so that instead of assessing each discipline, the focus of assessment efforts shifted to area-level projects. This adjustment is appropriate to a community college, where transfer degrees are focused on providing the GECC and a sampling of discipline-level work.

  • Goal 2: General Education - Students will develop habits of mind consistent with our six chosen general education competencies.

    The General Education Competencies (Ethics, Mathematics and Quantitative Reasoning, Problem Solving, Communications, Technology, and Research) were developed by the faculty for the 2003 Assessment Plan. These outcomes speak directly to the responsibility of the college, as well as to its obligation to assist students in developing the habits of mind that society values in the formation of citizens in a democracy (Link to another section of the Self-Study 4B.1). The competencies are referred to in assessment documentation as a “golden thread” woven through the strands of coursework. As a result of this conception, the data for assessing the competencies is drawn from college-level classrooms across the curriculum and generally not from a specific course where direct instruction is provided. So, for example, assessment events for research are carried out in classes which have research project requirements, such as literature, nursing, or biology, rather than from Composition II (ENG 103) where research writing is taught. This approach arises from the faculty’s desire to assess how students are acquiring and carrying out the competencies across education experiences in order to confirm retention of the competency and to inform direct instruction.

    Instructors are asked to choose two competencies they value and annually to collect and report data for these from appropriate college-level courses. The data is aggregated over a three-year period and discussed during the year that the competency comes up on the cycle. The faculty uses the data as a catalyst for discussions, both cross-curricular and within their areas, conforming to the timeline that coordinates these discussions into the planning and budget cycles. By design, the results of this analysis and discussion make their way either into Operational Plans or back to the full faculty for action. Several examples demonstrate that over time, this process is consistently providing opportunities for improvement:

    • During the first round of gen ed assessment, review of mathematics data led to discussions between the nursing and mathematics faculty. The resulting actions included a change in the way nursing instructors embed math in their courses and an overhaul of the outline of MAT 106, the required math course taken by math students.
    • As a result of the review of research data in 2007, the Communications area placed on its Operational Plan the task of creating a guide to research for use by the entire faculty.
    • In 2010, the discussion of ethics data resulted in a consensus among the faculty that the “college should develop a plagiarism/cheating statement which is consistent and should be included on every syllabus.” The commitment to accomplish this task appears on FY11 Operational Plans, and a taskforce convened in spring 2011 to begin the process.

    Cyclical assessment of the competencies also enabled the development of institution-wide projects. Selected and administered by the Core Team, the institution-wide assessments show promise to become a valuable instrument of institutional improvement. Three such projects have been undertaken:

    • FY09 – A reading assessment project was undertaken by a volunteer group of about a dozen faculty members. Classes were given a pre-test, received weekly direct instruction in reading strategies, and then were administered a post-test at the end of the semester.
    • FY10 – The Instructional Technology Staff and Core Team developed an online assessment of student technology skills. Faculty volunteered to administer a test of technology skill during the first week of the fall 2009 semester. The goal was to assess whether incoming students could do a series of basic tasks related to file management and word processing. The Developmental Taskforce repeated the assessment the next semester to confirm a finding that the developmental population was especially at risk.
    • FY11 - The LRC Staff, Instructional Technology Staff, and Communications faculty developed a research assessment that could be given using clicker technology or online. A pre-test was given to all students who took the library tour during the fall semester. A post-test was given as part of the spring semester final exam in all sections of the research writing course, Composition II (ENG 103).
  • Goal 3: Career - Students will demonstrate skills necessary to obtain and advance in employment in their chosen field.

    As with transfer degrees, the A.A.S. degree faculty created specific outcomes for each individual program in the design of the 2003 assessment system. They did not create area-level assessments because no compelling need appeared at that time for aggregating data across programs. Nursing, as a multi-faculty program with a highly developed assessment process that predates the development of the college-wide system, was able to benefit from the program-level discussions; however, the technology programs and some of the business programs, each with a single-person faculty, struggled with program assessment in the same way that single-person transfer disciplines did. To provide a remedy, the career degrees have added appropriate cross-curricular aggregation in order to benefit from the discussions and institution-level influence that area-level assessment has demonstrated are valuable. The program faculty met at the fall 2010 in-service to create a combined objective sheet that establishes outcomes based on the needs of employers. As the self-study is in process, the system has not yet collected data, but the end product will provide common outcomes will be collected and aggregated. For example, all of the career programs share the outcome that students will exhibit professional habits and behaviors in the workplace. Based on internship experiences, clinical settings, or capstone courses, instructors or supervisors will assess dependability, social appropriateness, cooperation and initiative. These shared concerns for employment readiness can be discussed profitably by the diverse programs and acted upon to the benefit of student learning and institutional improvement. The career programs will continue to assess various external data for their individual programs and have the option to retain program-specific skill assessments as the redesign matures.

  • Goal 4: Developmental - Students will demonstrate skills and understanding of concepts necessary to succeed in college-level studies.

    As an open-enrollment college, preparing the underprepared student to succeed is vitally important to carrying out Sauk's Mission. The assessment system outcomes for developmental students, defined as those enrolled in any developmental-level reading, composition, or math course, were established for the 2003 assessment plan by developmental faculty. The outcomes address both academic skills—specifically passage of exit testing that demonstrates college-level readiness—and other success skills.

    Mathematics has a highly developed assessment tool for its testing, and the full-time faculty regularly discuss and act on the data collected, as attested to by documents on file in the assessment folder. However, at the time of the self-study, no reading or English exit testing data has been filed in the folder, even though evidence exists that the data has been regularly collected. Developmental Taskforce minutes, area operational planning, and a recent program review all reveal that the assessment data is being effectively applied, especially to oversight and revision of placement cutoff scores and to changes in the exit testing that have taken place in the two previous years. In 2009, the Core Team acted to repair this gap by inviting the Director of Academic Development to become an active member of the Core Team.

3A.3: Clearly Differentiated Learning Goals

The Sauk assessment system is based on a hierarchy of student learning outcome statements, starting at the course level and occurring in various forms up through the programs, all in support of the Strategic Directions. All levels of assessment derive from faculty initiative and are regularly reviewed:

  • Course level: Each course is described in a faculty-developed course outline, which is approved by the Curriculum Committee and stored on the website. These outlines, conforming to a college-standard template, include specific statements of the outcomes to be achieved in the course and the tools by which these outcomes may be measured. Both the administrator who signs the curriculum proposal and the Curriculum Committee are charged with assuring the presence of acceptable outcomes-based design. Course outcomes and appropriate assessments are in evidence in every course outline. Individual faculty use the outlines to establish the content and assessment tools for the course, in keeping with their personal teaching styles, and communicate the outcomes and assessments to students in a syllabus, for which there is also a college-standard template. Outlines are reviewed at least every five years to ensure that outcomes remain current.
  • Program/discipline level: Faculty teaching within a particular discipline (transfer degree) or program (career degree) developed a set of outcomes for each degree when the 2003 Assessment Plan was designed. These outcomes represent those skills and habits of mind that the faculty believes a degree-holder should have. As described above, this portion of the system is in the process of redesign, and by spring 2012, a portion of the program and discipline objectives will remain, with others aggregating at the GECC area level in order to improve the efficacy of the assessment data in improving instruction, curriculum, and the institution’s academic offerings. Area and program objectives, established by the faculty, are regularly reviewed, as required by the Assessment Plan. Area Facilitators are charged with moderating faculty planning for assessment of at least one of these outcomes each year. In addition, the Program Review form includes a specific question about whether each objective has been assessed some time in the five-year period under consideration. This question serves as a prompt for the outcomes to be updated as needed.
  • Area level: In the 2003 conception of assessment, the Area Level was designed to create outcomes for the General Education Core Curriculum areas required for a degree. These outcomes make statements about the skills and habits of mind that any holder of an Associate’s degree is expected to have mastered in acquiring the breadth of thought that higher education values. Programs were also grouped by Area, but only to manage the system under the Area Facilitators. In the 2010 revision of the Assessment Plan, the Area Level outcomes for the GECC have been reviewed and have generally subsumed discipline-level outcomes. In addition, the Program Areas have created common outcomes based on employment skills and habits of mind (described above). This change to the system has not eliminated the program and discipline outcomes, but rather broadened them to improve engagement and efficacy. Certain disciplines where a specific sequence of knowledge is required, such as education and music, may need to continue to assess discipline-level outcomes, as will some distinct programs, like nursing and criminal justice.
  • Institution level: As described above, the Assessment Plan establishes the four over-arching goals which all of the other outcomes serve to measure. In addition, the General Education Competencies are maintained and assessed by the faculty at an institution level to provide an internal, formative assessment and engender institutional improvement. As an external, summative assessment of selected competencies, the CAAP test, to be administered every three years, provides data.

3A.4: Multiple Measures

Assessment at Sauk is an integrated system that combines data from the classroom and from various other sources to enable regular discussion of student learning in a variety of settings. The type of measure is selected for its appropriateness to the nature of the assessment, but an examination of campus practices shows that a combination of internal and external measures exist, that indirect and direct assessment each have their place, and that some assessments are formative and others are summative. A sampling of practices displays the array:

  • Classroom measures for college-level classes and for general education competencies are based on student performance of outcomes. Each submission of data must include a description of the assignment on which the results are based. At the course level, the course outlines provide clear guidance as to whether an instructor may choose the assessment or comply with a course-specific tool. At the program and area level, the faculty groups determine where the data for a project will come from. For example, College Algebra (MAT 121) uses a common final exam from which data is collected, aggregated and analyzed. The Communications Area projects generally direct faculty to select from any appropriate writing assignment or speech and assess it against a common rubric.
  • Besides the regular collection of classroom data, internal data about student learning is gleaned from the general education projects conducted by the Core Team each year. These projects seek to answer questions about student learning at an institutional level.
  • External data is valued as confirmation of student learning. Programs apply appropriate licensure feedback, and transfer areas are able to make use of grade reports from some of the universities to which students most commonly transfer. These data are reported on Operational Plans or during program review, where they may be applied to decision-making about budgetary and curricular change. Area faculty have selected from an array of data to focus on the most highly valued sources. So, for example, Business values transfer grades earned at 4-year universities; Nursing's NCLEX scores are reported on the Operational Plans; and Technology area has requested additional questions on the regular employment survey to meet its needs.
  • Formative assessment begins with initial placement testing designed to ensure that students begin the learning process at an appropriate level and continues through various course-specific tools, which are described on each syllabus as they relate to outcomes established in course outlines. Most of the area and program assessment efforts of the faculty are formative in nature.
  • Summative data comes from a variety of sources. Administration of the CAAP test to a sampling of prospective graduates every three years or so provides information that allows the college to compare to peer institutions, as well as state and national benchmarks. Health careers receive detailed licensing examination results that they can use for program improvement. Program data aggregated from internships and “capstone” courses provides summative data for career programs.
  • Although not regulated by the Assessment Plan, the degree to which data-influenced decision-making is embedded in Sauk's culture is revealed in the degree to which the various support units of the college depend on data to assess the effectiveness of their programs. For example, the Operational Plan Templates require that action items report “results that are sought” as a way to benchmark project success (link to an appendixAppendix). When the project is complete, another column reports “results obtained.” This combination sets up a similar sequence of reporting data, discussing results, and taking appropriate actions that characterizes the academic assessment process.

By using a wide variety of data from varying sources, the faculty is able to benefit from the multi-dimensional view of student learning to improve instruction, curriculum, and the institution.

3A.5 Dissemination of Assessment Results

In keeping with learning organization principles, Sauk has a strong commitment to shared governance as well as data-influenced decision making, which has resulted in a culture of assessment that thrives on discussion of assessment findings. In addition, the linkage of the assessment system into the strategic planning system allows the discussion of classroom data to flow seamlessly into academic operational planning and thereby serve as an agent of institutional improvement. However, the system has other constituencies besides faculty, and the self-study finds that the results of assessment are somewhat less available than they should be to these important stakeholders:

  • Board: Although the Board of Trustees is kept apprised of and plays an important role in strategic planning and in evaluating the associated data, the Assessment Plan does not indicate any process by which assessment results are directed to the attention of the Board. Certain external data (such as reports of university GPAs) are reported as news items.
  • Students: The importance of communicating the process of the assessment system and its value to student learning is described in the Assessment Plan. Indirectly, students are exposed to the system through the outcome-based design of course syllabi and by participation in classroom assessments. Directly, however, students are introduced to the assessment process and the system through two communication methods:
    • Syllabus statement: Every syllabus must include the following statement informing students of the college’s assessment program and their own involvement:
      Sauk Valley Community College is an institution dedicated to continuous instructional improvement. As part of our assessment efforts, it is necessary for us to collect and analyze course-level data. Data drawn from students’ work for the purposes of institutional assessment will be collected and posted in aggregate, and will not identify individual students. Your continued support in our on-going effort to provide quality instructional services at Sauk is appreciated.
    The statement is included as part of both the online and print syllabus templates. A survey of online syllabi showed all full-time faculty were in compliance with the requirement to include the statement (except for one first-year instructor who also omitted other required statements). A sampling of ten adjunct syllabi showed that all ten included the required statement.
    • Assessment brochure: Students enrolled in Orientation (PSY 100) are provided a pamphlet that describes assessment and helps them connect to their role in it and the benefits they derive from it. The three-fold pamphlet, designed in association with the 2003 Assessment Plan, describes the goals of the system and how students benefit from that system, with a special emphasis on the importance of the General Education Competencies. Even though the course is closely monitored by Counseling Office staff for consistency, the course outline contains no direct reference to assessment or the pamphlet. Also, in the process of the self-study, the Core Team realized that the pamphlet had been allowed to become outdated, so it is being revised for fall 2011. In addition, an assessment system review checklist now prompts the Team to review the pamphlet so that it can be kept current.
  • Public: The FY10 Recommendations for Change section of the Assessment Annual Report calls for improvements in public reporting. The notion that the community stakeholders are interested in or expect student learning results has received little or no attention in either the design of the 2003 system or in the 2010 revised plan. The Core Team became aware of the design flaw in spring 2010 and has recommended creation of a webpage for annual assessment results. At the time the self-study is concluding, no such action has been taken. The college has regularly submitted news releases to the local press about certain external data (for example, university GPA comparisons and CAAP results), but has yet to do any systematic reporting of assessment projects or results.

3A.6: Regular Review of Assessment System

The Assessment System designed in 2003 was predicated on the concept that the system for assessing student learning would be best served by an "organic" approach that assumed regular change would occur. As a result, the process has continued to be iterative and participatory. As described in the Assessment Plan, each academic year involves several levels of review of the system itself:

  • At the area/program level, each area faculty group discusses prior year data in the fall of the following year, moderated by an Area Facilitator. At that event, the participating faculty have the opportunity to make appropriate changes to program or area outcomes, rubrics, or assessment tools.
  • At the institutional level, the faculty discusses data and conducts projects on two general education competencies a year. In a series of discussion events, the faculty has the opportunity to recommend changes to the competencies themselves. In fall 2008, for example, a recommendation came from area-level discussions to eliminate ethical reasoning as a competency. The issue was brought to a meeting of the faculty; both sides of the argument were presented and discussed. The resulting vote confirmed the competency. The same process resulted in the faculty revising the research competency objectives in a way that clarified its goals for student outcomes.
  • At the system level, the Assessment Plan and the charge of the Assessment Committee call for the Faculty Core Team to conduct an annual evaluation each spring of Sauk's assessment system (link to an appendixAppendix). The Core Team, based on evaluation of system data, creates an annual report, including recommendations for change (if any) and a plan of action for the next academic year. The report is subsequently considered at the spring meeting of the full Assessment Committee, which consists of the Core Team, the Academic Vice President, the Dean of Institutional Research and Planning, and all of the Academic Deans. The annual evaluation ensures systematic oversight of the assessment system and has resulted in several major alterations in the system:
    • The 2005 and 2006 reports were directed to the Organizational Planning and Improvement Committee (OPIC). By 2006, a shift in the OPIC charge and revisions to the new Operational Plan Template led to a recommendation that this submission to OPIC was no longer necessary; and subsequent reports have been acted upon by the Assessment Committee.
    • In 2008, the Core Team, believing that the major work of design was complete, subsumed a separate General Education subcommittee and began more direct oversight of the competencies. It indicated that it would “refocus its creative energies from design to the improvement of teaching and learning through application of the assessment data,” primarily by recommending and facilitating professional development related to the Gen Ed competencies.
    • In spring 2009, the Core Team called for a Gap Analysis of the system. This report was considered at a special meeting of the Assessment Committee in the fall and resulted in a major revision of the 2005 system, which is being implemented as the self-study occurs.
  • At the administrative level, all of the academic administrators are members of the Assessment Committee and have an important role in discussing, revising, and approving the annual reports of the Core Team. In addition, as part of the 2009 Gap Analysis, key administrators were invited to assess the system against the HLC Matrix of Implementation, the results of which are reported in Figure 3ii below. A periodic repetition of this evaluation has been added to the Core Team’s annual review checklist to strengthen the administrative role in reviewing the assessment process, particularly those aspects, like Board support, that are beyond the purview of the faculty.
    Figure 3ii: Administrative Evaluation of Assessment System
    2010 Administrative Evaluation of the SVCC Assessment System against the HLC Levels of Implementation
    Source:2010 Assessment Annual Report