“Future-Focused Assessment”

Mark Salisbury’s “Future-Focused Assessment” article appears in the June 2014 Inside Higher Ed compilation of articles and essays titled “The Evolving Curriculum: Measuring Effectiveness of Change.” Salisbury introduces a different focus in assessment which assesses learning outcomes with a focus on the future. Specifically, how higher education institutions have prepared students to be life-long learners, instead of measuring outcomes based on what students have already learned.

In order to assess our students’ development as lifelong learners, Salisbury reasons we cannot continue to only “track learning [gains] as a finite set of outcomes.” He describes that assessment currently provides evidence of student learning by measuring “snapshots of learning outcomes,” which tracks what has been previously learned. Instead, he hopes to further develop it and introduce a different design of assessment, which analyzes the quality of the learning process beyond graduation,not just assessing learning outcomes during those four years of college. He proposes “emphasizing the connection between what has already occurred and what is yet to come.” Developing this new approach in assessment would help “determine the degree to which we are preparing students” for future challenges.

Salisbury hopes there will be more focus on the broader picture of the college experience, which is, that the “college experience should approach learning as a process- one that is cumulative, iterative, multidimensional, and most importantly, self-sustaining long beyond graduation.” He believes “we have to expand our approach to include process as well as product” in order to determine how institutions are preparing its students for life-long learning.

He understands this type of re-design requires more time, effort, and a more complex understanding of learning outcomes, however, he believes its implementation would help “demonstrate that the educational process is the glue that fuses those disparate parts into a great and qualitatively distinct whole.”

Just as the efforts of assessment provide administrators with data so they have the opportunity to make improvements, evolving practices and techniques in assessment is also advantageous. Further research should be contributed to future-focused assessment efforts. Otherwise, the college experience of life-long learning as a “whole [will] be nothing more than the sum of [its] parts” unless assessment can provide such valuable data.

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