International Assessment & Retention Conference (IARC 2008)

Venue: Westin Kierland Resort & Spa

Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, United States

Event Date/Time: Jun 11, 2008 End Date/Time: Jun 15, 2008
Registration Date: May 30, 2008
Early Registration Date: May 20, 2008
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The assessment movement has been developing and growing in influence for over a quarter century, but its focus has been primarily on documenting student success in the classroom. Within the past decade, pressures from many sources have created interest in the ways assessment data are used to improve learning; in a broader construction of the concept of learning, particularly outside the classroom; in using assessment information to achieve equity in student success; and in creating a better understanding among stakeholders of the degree to which higher education institutions are producing student success. At the same time, though, assessment practice seems to be focused on issues of program structure, data collection and organization strategies, and teaching effectiveness.

This conference aims to broaden and deepen our understanding of the role of assessment in higher education by reconsidering it through four filters, each of which offers many opportunities for presentation. The questions below each filter are designed to stimulate thought on these topics, not to limit the creativity of presenters.

Assessment as a Strategy to Improve Learning. This topical area is open to discussions of the ways in which students' experiences both inside and outside the classroom produce learning. It thus emphasizes the synergy of all of a student's experiences on campus in the production of learning, particularly that learning that relates to broad institutional outcomes, as well as the assessment of the degree to which the institution is helping students achieve desired outcomes. Further, it emphasizes the production of information about learning that, while it may be useful for reporting or benchmarking purposes, is most useful in suggesting ways in which learning can be improved. In this model, assessment becomes a tool for improvement of learning, not an institutional data-collecting exercise.

In what ways can Academic Affairs and Students Affairs cooperate to assure the achievement of learning outcomes?

--How can institutions assure shared responsibility for improving student learning?

--How can institutions emphasize improvement of learning over reporting of data in both internal and external communications?

--How can institutions assure that their institutional and general education learning outcomes are understood by all stakeholders, assessed at relevant points in a student's career, and made part of the institution's conversation about learning?

Assessment as a Strategy to Improve Persistence. Because of the aggregated data-reporting focus of much assessment activity, the usefulness of assessment information in helping individual students or groups of students has been less considered in assessment practice than it ought to be. Reconsidering this aspect of assessment can bring us to consider the ways in which institutions can use assessment information about both learners and learning to improve persistence. In this model, assessment information would include information about such things as student background and academic preparation, learning styles, progress toward degree, engagement, and other instructionally-related factors in student success in the context of their academic success.

--How can assessment information be used to deal with achievement gaps between different groups of students?

--How can assessment information be used in advising and in other institutional dealings with students?

--How can assessment information be used to improve retention and persistence?

--How can assessment information be used to inform institutional programming and decision-making?

Assessment as a Tool to Improve Transparency. As calls for accountability become louder and more shrill, institutions need to plan ways in which they can communicate their success in producing student success to their stakeholders. Most current reporting data, such as graduation rates, tell little about student success, and most learning assessment data are either too broad (aggregate scores on standardized tests) or too narrow (learning results from a particular course) to produce any information that is meaningful to higher education's wide range of stakeholders, from parents to legislators. Reconsidering the information higher education collects-and the strategies used to collect it-can produce public information tailored to mission and more meaningful to internal and external stakeholders.

--How can institutions affect external expectations so that they focus on student learning rather than test scores?

--What kinds of information do external stakeholders like parents and legislators expect?

--How do we provide external stakeholders with information that is useful to them and useful for continuous improvement of learning?

Assessment Management and Leadership. It has become clear that developing and managing assessment practice on any campus-large or small, private or public-is a complex undertaking that requires adaptability and institutional cooperation. Simply building a system that conducts assessments, builds databases, and "closes the loop" is not sufficient to guarantee commitment of staff, engagement of students, and transparency for stakeholders.

--What strategies for stimulating "buy-in" are most effective?

--How can assessment activities be effectively and efficiently structured and coordinated to assure improvement in learning?

--How can assessment activities be integrated in institutional planning and budgeting

--What are effective ways of communicating assessment results to stakeholders?

The International Assessment and Retention Conference is intended to be a "big tent" conference. Like the annual conferences once run by the American Association for Higher Education, this conference deals with topics of both policy and practice, and it is aimed at higher education professionals interested in and committed to the improvement of student learning. Thus it is designed, as the AAHE conferences were, to create conversations relevant to and benefiting professionals in Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and Institutional Research.