Tips to Prepare Your Category Structure for the Fall Semester

July 22, 2015 Kristen Hicks

The success of your assessment efforts depends on your ability to measure the right outcomes. One of the most essential steps in assessment is mapping out the categories you want to track and measure. Determining your assessment categories isn’t a one and done process—you need to revisit them on a regular basis to make sure what you’re measuring still matches your goals. The time between semesters is the perfect opportunity to review your categories and decide if anything should be added or changed.

If you already have a category structure in place from last semester, you have a head start, but our suggestions below can still help guide the process of reviewing and revisiting what you’re using. If you’re starting from scratch, these tips can help you get started, but if you find you need some additional assistance, we can put you in touch with the right person to guide you through the process.

Where to Start
You’ve got two main resources that will help you establish some of the most important categories to track:

  1. Your board exams – A huge part of your job is to prepare your students for their licensure exams, so your assessment should reflect that. Look at the types of questions and subject areas covered on the licensure exam to help fill in your list of categories.
  2. Your curriculum – All the subject areas, topics, and competencies you’re covering in your curriculum are precisely the things you want your students to be learning this semester. A look at your curriculum should give you a good list of the main categories of learning you should track.

What Else to Consider
Those two sources should help you develop (or refine) a solid list of categories, but a few other sources and factors can help you cover all your bases.

The main groups your data will serve
There are three main groups of people that assessment data is meant to help:

  1. Students – One of the big benefits that comes with better assessment is improved student feedback. Consider what information will be most useful to students throughout the semester. What can you tell them to help them better understand their strengths, their weaknesses, and the areas they should focus on in their studies?
  2. Administrators – Administrators need to keep track of how the program is performing from a high-level perspective in order to improve the curriculum and address any program-wide issues that occur. When developing your categories, think about the high-level learning objectives and goals the program has established.
  3. Faculty – Faculty can use assessment to determine the success of each lecture and unit in order to tweak their lesson plans for improvement. Consider what categories will help you determine which subject areas are getting enough (or too much) class time and which lessons are achieving the goals you set out for them.

While you can expect a lot of overlap in the categories that are useful to each group, you want to be sure to consider all of them separately so you don’t leave out anything important.

How students performed last year
Last year’s data can offer considerable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of both your curriculum itself and your attempts to measure its success. Analyze how your students performed in the course, consider how they did on their licensure exams as well, if relevant, and use the information to help refine your assessment categories.

What other professors are doing
If your whole program is committed to a culture of assessment, then you should have plenty of resources in the form of other professors to help you with the process. Talk to others in your department about what categories they’re using and borrow ideas that are relevant to your own course. You can take this effort a step further and work with your colleagues to develop better all-around assessments through peer review.

Accreditation standards
Many accreditation organizations specifically call for better assessment efforts in higher education programs. Find out what yours recommends and take advantage of their suggestions to further supplement your categories list.

Keeping your categories up-to-date and useful may be a task that is easy to procrastinate on, but considering how important it is to all the other work you do to gain clear assessment data, it’s worth the effort. Find some time before the fall semester to give your category structure another look. You, your students, and your administration can all benefit.


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