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What is assessment? What is accreditation? What is the North Central Association?
Assessment is an ongoing process that accumulates, summarizes and evaluates students' and educators' experiences throughout their in and out of class academic interactions. It is a rather dynamic process that constantly reshapes its structure to respond to the demands of the changing learning environment.
Assessment is unique to each institution of higher education because of its connection to the institution's mission and learning goals. Furthermore, different institutions may have diverse goals that are incompatible; e.g. some schools emphasize an information technology competency, while others have a broader orientation geared towards the development of life long learning skills, etc.
Former Secretary of Education, William Bennett, issued an executive order in 1988, requiring all accrediting agencies to require in their criteria for accreditation evidence of institutional outcomes or an assessment program that produces these outcomes.
An institutional accrediting agency evaluates an entire institution in terms of its mission and the agency's standards or criteria. It accredits the institution as a whole. It assesses the formal educational activities of the institution and also evaluates governance and administration, financial stability, admissions and student personnel services, institutional resources, student academic achievement, institutional effectiveness, and relationships with constituencies inside and outside the institution.
Institutional accreditation is provided by regional associations of schools and colleges ( each named after the region in which it operates Middle States, New England, North Central, Northwest, Southern, Western) and by several national associations that limit their scope to particular kinds of institutions. While independent of one another, the regional associations cooperate extensively and acknowledge one another's accreditation.
A specialized accrediting body evaluates particular units, schools, or programs within an institution. Specialized accreditation, also called program accreditation, is often associated with national professional associations such as those for engineering, medicine, and law, or with specific disciplines such as business, teacher education, psychology, or social work.
The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools was founded in 1895, for the purpose of establishing close relations between the colleges and secondary schools of the region. Throughout its history the Association has been committed to the improvement of education at all levels through evaluation and accreditation.
Today, the Association is a membership organization of colleges and schools in 19 states Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, in addition to the Department of Defense schools and Navajo Nation schools.
Two independent corporations also hold membership in the Association:
The Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement, with its office in Tempe, Arizona, accredits schools offering K-12 as well as non-degree granting post-secondary institutions. This Commission works extensively through state committees throughout the region.
The Higher Learning Commission, with its office in Chicago, accredits degree-granting institutions of higher education. The Commission's work is conducted by several groups: a full-time staff, a Board of Trustees, Consultant-Evaluator (C-E) Corps [more than 900 educators throughout the North Central region], Accreditation Review Council (ARC), and the Institutional Actions Council (IAC). ARC and IAC members come from the C-E Corps; some are representatives of the public.
More information on these Higher Learning Commission groups may be found at: http://www.ncahigherlearningcommission.org/
The Commission's process of evaluation for both initial and continued accreditation is structured to determine whether an institution meets the General Institutional Requirements (GIRs) and the Criteria for Accreditation. Although some institutions may follow alternative patterns of self-study by written agreement with Commission staff, the evaluation process for most institutions can be summarized as follows:
In addition to the General Institutional Requirements, an institution accredited by The Higher Learning Commission demonstrates that it satisfies five Criteria for Accreditation. Further information on the new mission of the Higher Learning Commission and the new criteria for accreditation may be found here in pdf format. (This document is available as a pdf download. If you do not have Acrobat Reader, click here for a free download. )
While the North Central Association remains dedicated to fostering good relationships between colleges and schools, the two Commissions are legally empowered to conduct accrediting activities for educational institutions. The Association retains control over the use of the name, logo, and intellectual property of the Association. General information on the Higher Learning Commission may be found at its web site: www.ncahigherlearningcommission.org.
Key purposes of assessment: (a) improvement of student learning and instruction, (b) accomplishment of institutional mission, and (c) accountability for achievement of educational goals.
Some key terms concerning assessment:
Programmatic assessment places greater emphasis on educational programs and courses rather than on individual students. It examines whether the curriculum makes sense in its entirety and whether students acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and values graduates should have.
Intended outcomes are the results planned to be accomplished by the assessment program instituted. In contrast, actual outcomes are the results achieved in the assessment activities.
Direct measures of assessment are well defined instruments that include but not limited to objective tests, essays, presentations and others. In contrast, indirect measures are not as structured as the direct measures and allow students to reflect on what is learned rather than demonstrating it. Examples of the latter are alumni surveys and graduate interviews.
Quantitative methods of assessment are ones that employ numerical scores of rating learning versus qualitative methods which focus on descriptions rather than numbers. Examples of qualitative methods are field studies, journals, logs, etc.
Course embedded assessment is an assessment that gathers group-level information directly from the class room through designing specific exam questions, case studies or other assignments.
North Central Restructured Expectations
The following excerpts, related to review of assessment activities in higher learning organizations, are from the North Central Association document which will, in large part, become the newly revised version (2009) of the Handbook for Accreditation. Click here for a pdf file over viewing this information. (This document is available as a pdf download. If you do not have Acrobat Reader, click here for a free download. )