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The Journal of Higher Education 73.2 (2002) 302-305

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Book Review

Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing, and Improving Assessment in Higher Education

Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing, and Improving Assessment in Higher Education, by Catherine A. Palomba and Trudy W. Banta. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999. 405 pp. $32.95

Although assessment activities are now pervasive in American colleges and universities and consume substantial resources, few institutions seem to have exploited assessment's potential to produce significant gains in learning. Meanwhile, pressure from accrediting agencies and state governments continues to grow for evidence of institutions' educational effectiveness. And now, competition is burgeoning from numerous organizations offering opportunities for learning via the World Wide Web. As a result, colleges and universities may also [End Page 302] find their potential student "customers" far more demanding than in the past for information about their ability to foster learning. Assessment Essentials can provide them with an excellent guide as they seek to document and enhance their educational impact.

The book is divided into twelve chapters, followed by an extensive reference section and name and subject indices. Chapter 1 describes six essential steps for any assessment program: (1) agree on learning goals and objectives, (2) carefully design and implement assessment planning, (3) involve people widely, (4) select or design and implement means of collecting data, (5) study, disseminate, and act on assessment findings, and (6) reexamine the assessment process on a regular basis.

Chapter 2 emphasizes the importance of being clear about purposes, definition of terms, and development of guidelines; organizing for assessment (leadership, committees, assessment offices); defining intended outcomes as clearly stated goals and objectives; and developing an assessment plan.

Chapter 3 discusses the key issue of involving faculty members and students in assessment. The authors rightly view involvement as central to the success of academic assessment. They discuss ways of involving people, responsibilities and rewards for assessment work, barriers to assessment, and ethical issues when involving students.

Chapter 4 deals with general issues when selecting assessment methods: taking stock of current assessment activities, developing criteria to guide choice of methodology, ensuring that the technical qualities of reliability and validity are present, evaluating costs, considering the crucial issue of student motivation, and choosing among and implementing methods.

Chapter 5 discusses performance measures, including "authentic" assessments that employ examples of students' work, such as oral examinations and performances, and portfolio assessment.

Chapter 6 reviews paper-and-pencil tests and classroom assignments and assessment. Chapter 7 deals with soliciting students' points of view by means of survey research, focus groups, and other qualitative methods.

Chapter 8, "Relating Assessment to the World of Work," describes ways of involving alumni and employers in an assessment process and evaluating experiential education activities, such as internships, practica, and student teaching. Sections show how to assess group work, team-building skills, and service learning.

Chapter 9 addresses the nature of general education and lays out the issues involved and choices available when assessing outcomes such as critical thinking, writing, oral communication, problem solving, ethical reasoning, and values and attitudes. A final section deals with assessing general education outcomes in major fields.

Chapter 10 explores ways of describing and understanding the campus environment as students experience it. The authors provide diverse methods for analyzing a curriculum and students' experiences with the curriculum and the institution more broadly.

Chapter 11 constitutes an extensive and important discussion of reporting and using assessment results.

The last chapter discusses choices in assessment, such as the dual purposes of accountability and improvement, course-based and programmatic assessment, [End Page 303] a focus on individual students or programs, and whether to use value-added or comprehensive longitudinal methodologies.

The authors pose an additional dichotomy between viewing assessment as merely another task to be given to the faculty and staff or as a powerful tool for creating profound cultural change that can lead to significantly increased learning. The chapter and book conclude by suggesting there is no choice, however, about doing assessment. It is integral to our work as educators.

Catherine A. Palomba is director...


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