Frequently Asked Questions
Does assessment matter? Should I care?
Absolutely. The purpose of assessment is to improve, inform, and support your program. The assessment of student learning is an essential component of university effectiveness, General Education, and program goals. This assessment is fundamental to achieving the Strategic Plan goals and fulfilling the mission of the college.
In addition, assessment plays an integral role in accreditation of programs and Middle States accreditation. These accreditations are a prerequisite for access to federal or state funds for research, programs, and facilities, as well as government sources of financial support for students.
What are the possible outcomes?
If an institution fails to demonstrate compliance with one or more of the standards, Middle States can send specific recommendations that engage the institution in a follow-up process. For example, “accreditation with a follow-up report" or "accreditation with monitoring and a follow-up visit." If an institution fails to perform the designated follow-up actions, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education can subsequently withdraw its accreditation.
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What is the difference between assessment and evaluation?
Assessment and evaluation are often confused. Therefore, it is important to understand the difference between these two concepts, which have similar methods, but have different goals.
The main goal of assessment is to improve student learning. Assessment helps to ensure the following:
- Institutional and program-level goals are clear to the public, students, faculty, and staff.
- Institutional programs and resources are organized and coordinated to achieve institutional and program-level goals.
- The institution is indeed achieving its mission and goals, and
- The institution is using assessment results to improve student learning and otherwise advance the institution. (Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 2007, p.75).
While assessment focuses on how well student learning goals are achieved, evaluation addresses how well all the major goals of a program are achieved (Suskie, 2009).
Evaluation is using assessment information to:
- Make informed judgment on whether students have achieved the learning goals established for them.
- Investigate and judge the quality or worth of a program, project, or other entity rather than student learning.
Thus, evaluation is “the analysis and use of data by faculty to make judgments about student performance. Evaluation includes the determination of a grade or a decision regarding pass/fail for an individual assignment or for a course.” (Goldman & Zakel, 2009)
What is Middle States? What is accreditation?
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) is a voluntary, non-governmental, membership association that defines, maintains, and promotes educational excellence across institutions with diverse missions, student populations, and resources. It examines each institution as a whole, rather than specific programs within institutions.
Accreditation is a means of showing that a university’s programs, policies, and priorities are aligned with its institutional mission and goals. The accreditation process is an opportunity to demonstrate a university’s accountability and improvement, both internally and externally. Montclair State University is proud to be accredited by one of the 7 regional accreditation authorities - the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
The MSCHE accredits institutions in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and several locations abroad.
What is Middle States looking for?
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education aspires to be the preeminent resource for institutions of higher education striving to achieve excellence in fulfilling their missions. It also intends, through voluntary assessment and adherence to high standards for student learning outcomes and operational behavior, to assure higher education’s publics that its accredited institutions are fulfilling their stated purposes and addressing the publics’ expectations.
Montclair State University must comply with all fourteen Middle States’ standards in order to keep our accreditation. All the standards are interpreted in the context of the university's mission and goals. Additionally, we must demonstrate that our resources are allocated properly and our planning processes are sustainable for change, informed by data analysis, assessment, and
evaluation. If you are interested in the full exposition of the standards, you can download the Middle States document entitled Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education.
Aren't we already accredited?
Yes, the Middle States accreditation process follows a 10-year cycle, and Montclair State University’s last accreditation was in 2007. In June 2012, we provided Middle States with a Periodic Review Report to address their recommendations. Middle States will next consider Montclair State University’s accreditation in 2016-2017 with a decennial Self-Study Report in 2016 and a follow-up on-site visit in 2017.
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Will Montclair State University be accredited automatically? Isn't this just a formality?
No institution is automatically accredited. The process of accreditation is the same for all institutions and follows a 10-year cycle.
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When does this have to be done? How often do we have to assess the program?
Program assessment is an ongoing process of identifying goals and objectives, collecting and analyzing data, and making modifications for improvement when necessary. That being said, programs need not assess every goal and objective on a yearly basis. Each goal should be assessed once a year. Therefore, departments need to adopt their own individual schedule of rotating through the goals and objectives on a regular basis to collect data to meet the assessment deadlines and identify their strategies for using the data to make any modifications necessary to programs to improve student learning. At Montclair State University, the Middle State Commission on Higher Education expects evidence of this ongoing process on assessment by 2016.
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How should we begin?
The three main steps of assessment are:
1. Articulate your goals and objectives for student learning.
2. Gather evidence about how well students are meeting the goals.
3. Use the information to make any modifications necessary to improve student learning.
For details about the assessment process, see Steps in Developing an Assessment Plan.