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The New Office of Educational Assessment is on a ‘Continuous Search for Excellence’

The word “measurement” has hard edges and dictatorial overtones that, while popular in the business world, seem to render it ill suited to higher education. Nothing can be further from the truth, according to Mary Jane K. DiMattio, RN, Ph.D., director of the University’s new Office of Educational Assessment (OEA), who contends that understanding and improvement are the reasons for measurement, and, in turn, the keys to assessment. “Assessment is about examining what we have, demonstrating our excellence, and, in some cases, making things better,” she said.

Assessment at the University begins with the faculty in particular, and the job of the OEA, established in July 2014, is to be a resource. “We are in an assisting role,” said Dr. DiMattio. “We don’t deliver outcomes, and we don’t set them. That is up to faculty experts in each discipline.”

Delivering what is promised takes strategic planning.

“It goes beyond an individual course or program,” said Dr. DiMattio. “We are also concerned with student outcomes at an institutional level, so we are focusing both on curricular learning and co-curricular experiences outside the classroom; anything that engages a student has the potential to affect learning.”

The OEA seeks to enhance the many evidence-collecting systems already in place and to help develop the means to collect and interpret “evidence” when no systems exist.

A common misconception about assessment is that it suffocates imagination and invention. According to Dr. DiMattio, active observing and interpreting is one creative process. “We don’t reduce things to numbers,” she said, “Instead, good assessment fosters discussion,” stimulating ideas and providing benchmarks to illuminate a path to reflection and a continuous search for excellence.

Dr. Linda Ledford-Miller, professor of Spanish and Portuguese, agrees that assessment does not mean imprisoning the humanities behind a wall of numbers. “It’s hard to say ‘you will love Chaucer’ is a learning outcome. However, assessment seeks to measure what students know, do and learn. So we can say, ‘The student will write an essay with a proper thesis and conclusion.’ We won’t try to assess everything, everywhere, at all times,” said Dr. LedfordMiller. “We’ll make well-thought-out choices.”

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