**This is a work of satire. It ends with an author’s note of true advice – and some elements may seem realistic – but the following narrative is fiction.**
In light of Independence Day, I think it’s time to liberate ourselves from assessment practices. That’s right, people – let’s put an end to the planning, abundant data collection, and obligatory reporting. Who needs any of this stuff, anyway? I think we all can agree we were doing just fine before someone mentioned the “A”-word.
You may be too young, but I still remember what it was like to work in a higher education environment without a strong culture of assessment practice. Picture this:
- No plans! Granted we had to fill out a “strategic plan” now and then, but we could still operate however we wanted because who knows our area better than us?
- No outcomes! We existed in a world without Bloom’s taxonomy or worrying about nuanced articulation of our impact on students. After all, we’ve always known what we do, right?
- No data review! We were collecting data – as we always are – but emails of spreadsheets or high-level PowerPoint presentations in meetings were enough. No pressure to be data-informed or relate it to our activities; we just talked about general data important to us at the time.
- No reports! Again, we know what’s going on in our area, so why document it? If someone needed to know about my area, I would just share my thoughts – or order my staff to pull together random emails, quotes, and numbers to make up a story.
I know it sounds like fantasy, but it was real. We didn’t need to get primary source data from students, we could just rely on second-hand feedback from faculty or staff. When faced with difficult decisions, I didn’t have to bother with data or evidence – I could just use my gut. I miss the days when education and work experience was all you needed to have your thoughts and feelings accepted as reality, not to mention being trusted to be objective and accurate in staying on track for operational success. In that spirit, I encourage my colleagues to buck assessment! Let’s return to the easier and better times, when we could focus more on doing our jobs and less on ensuring evidence of our work.
Author’s note: I have to admit, I had fun writing this! I spend a lot of my job having to defend, justify, and communicate the value of assessment practices, so it was interesting to flip the script. While assessment has immense value (ensures accurate perception of effectiveness and impact of efforts, helps communicate value and purpose per area, responsible practice, etc.), there are some real concerns to guard against:
- Data overload. It’s important to differentiate data “wants” versus “needs”. If people are receiving data but not reviewing or acting on it, should they still receive it? Should it still be collected (at all) or at the existing frequency? Good questions to ask to help sift through data.
- Process driving needs. We can get so caught up in practices that we keep pushing them without considering if they’re still meeting needs. Because needs evolve over iterations and cycles, it’s important to ensure we stay aware of stakeholders and data needs to ensure supporting processes.
- Going through the motions. If people view assessment efforts as hoops to jump through or compliance, there’s a problem. Assessment is supposed to inform areas on strengths and areas to improve, so if value isn’t associated with the processes, there likely isn’t meaningful work taking place. These are opportunities to revisit measures and efforts to meet needs.
There’s plenty of other tips, tricks, and advice to share, but I wanted to follow up my satirical piece with validation of some real concerns in assessment work. In the end, I hope the reverse narrative on the topic provoked thought or provided entertainment.