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Assessment Plan for the Core Curriculum

Approved by the Assessment Committee, February 24, 2000

I.   Background

The Assessment Program of the College was adopted by the faculty in April of 1994. The document begins with an introduction that links assessment to Calvin’s stated mission. Then, the purpose of assessment is stated: “The overriding purpose of assessment at Calvin College is to focus the work of the college on the orderly, purposeful pursuit of its mission.” (p. 2) The program provides guidelines for assessment, guidelines reproduced here without the explanatory paragraphs that accompany the guidelines in the 1994 document.

  1. That the planning of assessment involve the faculty, administration, student development staff, and students.
  2. That the planning of assessment begin with the writing of assessable educational objectives for each educational program of the college.
  3. That assessment in each area be accomplished with a combination of different formats.
  4. That all assessment be done with a view toward using the results of assessment for program improvement.
  5. That each aspect of the assessment plan be reviewed at specific points in the process in order to determine whether the information provided contributes sufficiently to assessment.
  6. That individuals working in each area be responsible for writing an assessment report for the administrator responsible for that area and the assessment coordinator.

The program plan then continued with a specific recommendation for the assessment of the core curriculum. It proposed a pilot project with a group of students. In keeping with the third and fifth guidelines and because of the logistical problems and expense of assessing the entire student body, the pilot project was envisioned as a four-year longitudinal study. As such, the pilot project was to have both determined the effectiveness of the core curriculum and the various methods of assessment being piloted. The pilot projected concluded in the spring of 1999, and both sets of results are summarized in Appendix A.

Those who shaped the Assessment Program were wise in recommending a pilot program for three reasons. First, because of their commitment to using multiple formats of assessment, the pilot program allowed trial use of a variety of formats. Second, the pilot program allowed the college to determine which aspects of assessment seemed to contribute findings in a helpful way. Third, in recommending a four year pilot program, their timing has coincided exceedingly well with our shift to a new core curriculum—a curricular revision begun by first identifying its purposes. Thus, a new assessment plan for the core curriculum was called for in the core curriculum structure the faculty approved in April of 1999.

This proposal provides a proposed assessment plan in response to this call. It is offered in a way consistent with the previously approved purpose and guidelines for assessment at Calvin and in a manner that takes advantage of what was learned from the pilot project. Moreover, it comes as a new core curriculum is ushered in, for it is critical for the college to use outcome measures as a way to assess the effectiveness of the new curriculum, particularly since it has adopted a complex curricular structure that depends upon effective trans-disciplinary objectives to achieve commonality of core learning.

II. The Objectives of the Core Curriculum

The original document of the Assessment Program called for assessable educational objectives. Although there may differing opinions about whether the purposes developed for the new core curriculum are assessable educational objectives, they provide a focused framework by which the purposes or scope of the core curriculum are made clear.

Table 1: Purposes of the Core Curriculum
Core Knowledge
Core Skills
Core Virtue

Knowledge of God

  • The Christian Faith
  • The Reformed Tradition
  • Other Religious Traditions

Knowledge of the World

  • World Structure
  • Formal & Quantitative Structures
  • The Natural World
  • Human Society
  • The Arts
  • Historical Development

Knowledge of Ourselves

  • Our Identities
  • Our Bodies
  • Our Emotions
  • Our Minds
  • Our Hearts
  • Our Gifts & Callings

The Skills of Reasoning

  • The General Art of Reasoning
  • Quantitative & Empirical Reasoning
  • Cultural Discernment

The Skills of Communication

  • Rhetoric of the Written Word
  • Rhetoric of the Spoken Word
  • Rhetoric of the Image
  • The Discipline of Reading
  • The Discipline of Listening
  • The Discipline of Seeing
  • Competence in a Foreign Language
  • The Art of Cross-Cultural Communication

Technological Skills

  • Use of Information Technology

Research Skills

  • The Art of Executing a Research Project

Physical Skills

  • Exercise of the Body
  • Diligence
  • Patience
  • Honesty
  • Courage
  • Charity
  • Creativity
  • Empathy
  • Humility
  • Stewardship
  • Compassion
  • Justice
  • Faith
  • Hope

The structure of the core curriculum relates to these purposes as found in Appendix B.   For example, the table first lists course category and related purposes (e.g., the Integrative Studies course category lists nine purposes it intends to meet) and then lists purposes and related course categories (e.g., the Historical Development purpose is linked to nine categories).

 Using this linkage of structure and purpose, the following Assessment Plan for the Core Curriculum is proposed.

Proposed Core Curriculum Assessment Plan

In the following sections, the proposed plan is presented from each of two perspectives.   First, the methods or types of assessment are described, and second, the plan for implementation is outlined. 

 A.   Assessment Methods

1. Background and Rationale

The goal in crafting this assessment plan has been to minimize the need to plan and produce special assessment activities outside the mainstream of faculty and student activities.   This has led to an emphasis on course-embedded assessment.   Rather than positioning assessment as something outside of the curriculum, it is placed—as much as possible—within the curriculum.   Not only does this avoid having to create special assessment activities (in which students would need to participate in ways that would be out of their ordinary learning activities, thereby ushering in problems with motivation and the like), it also places assessment most closely to the overriding question: Does the new core curriculum truly meet the purposes it was designed to serve?

2. Course Grade

There are six purposes of the core curriculum that are closely tied with a specific course category.   Moreover, courses in these categories are unique because unlike other courses that serve both core purposes and other purposes (e.g., major), these courses give much greater service to core (although they may serve other purposes as they become, for example, foundations for learning in a major).   In other words, these courses are truly dedicated to the core purpose that they serve.   Therefore, the course grade will serve as an outcome measure of student learning for these five categories:   Quantitative Structures, Competence in a Foreign Language, The Art of Cross-Cultural Communication, The Use of Information Technology, The Exercise of the Body, and The Rhetoric of the Written Word.

For the purposes of this assessment plan, all grades will be of interest (e.g., percentage of students receiving As, Bs, etc.), but the criterion for all will be that attainment of a grade of C or better is needed to meet minimum standards for the purpose or purposes of the given category.   Two further comments are necessary.

First, the grade of C was chosen because in represents that minimum standards are reached.   Precedence is found in the college requirement that a grade of C be attained in English 101.   Although one could argue that the lowest passing grade (D-) should suffice, most would agree that low passing grades have not reached a suitable minimum standard of competence.

Second, selecting a grade of C as the criterion does not mean that the course must be repeated until such a level is reached (as is and will continue to be the case for ENGL 101).   Rather, it is simple a way to measure the effectiveness of our curriculum and instruction for specific core purposes.   For example, if we find that if large percentage of students complete core requirements in a foreign language below this standard, we would be wise to examine our foreign language curriculum and the instructional methods we use, for students completing a foreign language sequence with grades 1.7 or less are probably not competent in that language.   Also, since three 1sh courses are needed for The Exercise of the Body category, the average grade of these three courses will be used in light of the criterion.   In this way, one poor grade will not lead to the conclusion that skills had not developed sufficiently if grades in the other two courses are strong.

3. Course Specific
a. Single Purpose Assessments

There are categories in the new core curriculum for which only one or a small number of courses will be included.   Moreover, because these courses have a focused responsibility in meeting a core purpose (although it may be only one among others), it is best to position the assessment within the course.   A specific assessment measure is not proposed, since those who can best create the tool are still developing the courses.   Thus, the specific method of assessment (e.g., a graded project completed by all students in the course, a specific test, etc., but not a course grade) is yet to be determined.   An added benefit is that the measure may enhance the unity of purpose among the various faculty members teaching the course.

The specific categories, selected purposes they represent, and the probable courses are in the following table.

 Table 2: Focused Course-Purpose Links
Category
Selected Purposes
Probable Courses
Philosophical Foundations
  • The General Art of Reasoning
PHIL 151, 152, 153
Persons in Community
  • Quantitative and Empirical Reasoning
EDUC 301, PSYC 151, SOC/SOWK 250, POLS 1XX & 270
Rhetoric in Culture
  • Rhetoric of the Spoken Word
  • Rhetoric of the Image
  • Discipline of Seeing
  • Discipline of Listening
CAS 101, 140, 141, 150, 214
 
b. Comprehensive Assessment

The Integrative Studies category of the new core curriculum is linked to a variety of core purposes, all of which require students to synthesize their Calvin education in the third or fourth year. Thus, the place Integrative Studies holds in the curriculum is unique, and it provides an ideal spot to assess the outcomes of many of these purposes: 1) Christian Faith, 2) Reformed Tradition, 3) World Structures, 4) Our Minds, 5) Our Hearts, 6) Our Gifts and Callings, and 7) Cultural Discernment.

The college’s procedures for assessing outcomes in courses in the Integrative Studies category should define a set of student accomplishments grounded in learning throughout the core curriculum that may be expressed in capstone reflections in any specific major or program.   Since these accomplishments will be realized in relation to issues, pedagogies, and learning products which vary across professors, courses, disciplines, and professions, every Integrative Studies category course instructor must develop a plan for assessing them in her or his course.

An instructor may choose to submit the results of a common college-wide in-course exercise (yet to be developed) that is sufficiently flexible to match the goals of her or his course. Or an instructor may submit alternative evidences drawn from representative student work in the course (e.g., excerpts from take-home essays, papers, transcribed discussions, interviews, etc.) that address these capstone core learning accomplishments.

4. Graduate Follow-Up Survey

A final set of objectives is best assessed after the completion of a student’s educational program. Moreover, the purposes recommended to be addressed in this assessment are purposes found in multiple courses and are more difficult to directly assess.   Thus, asking students to evaluate the effectiveness of their learning is appropriate for the following purposes:

 Table 3: Purposes for the Follow-Up Questionnaire

Core Knowledge

Core Skills

Core Virtue

Knowledge of God The Art of Executing a Research Project
  • Diligence
  • Patience
  • Honesty
  • Courage
  • Charity
  • Creativity
  • Empathy
  • Humility
  • Stewardship
  • Faith
  • Compassion
  • Justice
  • Hope
  • Other Religious Traditions
Knowledge of the World
  • The Natural World
  • Human Society
  • The Arts
  • Historical Development

Knowledge of Ourselves

  • Our Identities Our Bodies Our Emotions

Asking students to reflect upon their learning in conjunction with these purposes will be included in the Follow-Up Questionnaire of Calvin Graduates, an institutional research measure the Social Research Center uses.

B. Implementation

 1. Development of Measures

The departments listed in line of Table 2 will be asked to work together to determine by what method the purposes could be assessed in the courses listed.   Their recommendation will go to the Assessment Committee whose approval will be final.

The Assessment Committee will be responsible for developing the primary methodology to be used for the Integrative Studies category and for evaluating, prior to their use, alternative methodologies proposed by instructors.   Their recommendation will go to the Core Curriculum Committee whose approval will be final.

The Assessment Committee will work with the SRC to revise the current questionnaire so that it includes the purposes listed in Table 3. The Committee believes that the purpose, The Art of Executing a Research Project, would be considered separately in the survey from the other purposes, given its unique nature.

2. Protocol for Using the Plan
a. Responsibilities
  1. The Dean for Instruction will be responsible for reminding, by the sixth week of the semester, faculty teaching core courses in the categories of Rhetoric in Culture, Persons in Community, Philosophical Foundations, and Integrative Studies that the given assessment measure must be used at the conclusion of the course.

  2. The Dean for Instruction will be responsible for signaling instrument use near the conclusion of each semester and gather the results.

  3. The Dean for Instruction will be responsible for providing, from the data, a snapshot of the project’s results each year to the Assessment Committee (because of its responsibility for monitoring the implementation of the plan) and to the Core Curriculum Committee (because of its responsibility for monitoring the effectiveness of the curriculum).
b. Timing
  1. Data gathering will occur at all times so that instruction and curriculum is continually informed.
  2. When a cohort of the first-year class who entered in 2001 completes their Calvin education, a sample of completers will be gathered so that a full review can be completed; this will occur every year thereafter.
Core Knowledge
Core Skills
Core Virtures
Course-Embedded: Grade
  • Formal & Quantitative Structures
  • Rhetoric of the Written Word
  • Competence in a Foreign Language
  • Use of Information Technology
  • Exercise of the Body
  • The Art of Cross-Cultural Comm

Course-Embedded: Discipline-Specific Measure

  • Quantitative & Empirical Reasoning
  • Rhetoric of the Spoken Word
  • Rhetoric of the Image
  • The Discipline of Listening
  • The Discipline of Seeing

Course-Embedded: Synthesis Measure
  • The Christian Faith
  • The Reformed Tradition
  • World Structure
  • Our Minds
  • Our Hearts
  • Our Gifts & Callings
  • Cultural Discernment

Survey:
  • Other Religious Traditions
  • The Natural World
  • Human Society
  • The Arts
  • Historical Development
  • Our Identities
  • Our Bodies
  • Our Emotions
  • The Art of Executing a Research Project

  • Diligence
  • Patience
  • Honesty
  • Courage
  • Charity
  • Creativity
  • Empathy
  • Humility
  • Stewardship
  • Compassion
  • Justice
  • Faith
  • Hope