How Assessment Is Used to Make Changes and Drive Progress

The overarching goal of assessment is to drive the changes necessary to be successful in educating our students. At the University of Pittsburgh, assessment of learning outcomes emanates from the faculty. It provides a structured, not personality-driven, process to identify the weaker elements in programs, units, and curricula. Through the University’s Planning and Budgeting System, assessment is key to setting goals and priorities, and it informs resource allocation. All strategic plans that units submit to the Provost must address assessment in detail.

All schools in the University have implemented changes that resulted from the assessment process. As of May 2011, assessment plans showed marked improvement over previous years. A review of the assessment plans shows that programs throughout the University implemented more than 300 curricular initiatives, including developing new courses, changing course content, changing course sequence, changing teaching assignments, changing assessment methods, conducting a major overhaul of a program, creating a new track, raising standards, increasing required seminars and capstone courses, restructuring departmental advising, creating a new credit distribution, creating an assessment committee, and modifying bylaws to facilitate assessment activities. The complete list of approximately 310 new initiatives is summarized in Appendix C16.

The Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences revised seven undergraduate majors and four certificate programs, and it is engaged in an expansion of the general education requirements through the addition of specific learning outcomes, assessment instruments, and standards of comparison to each of its general education requirements. For example, as discussed previously, under the direction of faculty members in the School of Education, the language program coordinators in Arabic, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Hebrew developed a set of rubrics16 for reading, writing, and interpersonal communication based on the OPI. Another example of curricular development that is integral to Pitt’s international character is the revision of the Writing Across the Curriculum general education requirement. The College Writing Board held a faculty forum on March 19, 2010, to consider whether Dietrich School students could fulfill a writing requirement in a language other than English. Faculty from all divisions in the Dietrich School engaged in a dialogue followed by a recommendation to the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Council that allowed for one of three writing requirement to be fulfilled in any language (the first two requirementsmust be met in English; the third may be met in a second language if the student’s major is in that language).

The Bachelor of Arts in political science was strengthened from 24 to 33 credits, and a new Bachelor of Science in political science was created to attend to those political science students who need more quantitative methods to be better prepared for graduate school. In addition, other programs increasingly use external advisory boards. For example, the actuarial mathematics major was substantially revised following the recommendations of the Actuarial Mathematics Advisory Board, which is made up of working actuaries.

The College of Business Administration used the results of its EBI (Educational Benchmarking, Inc.) Undergraduate Business Assessment to address the lower levels of student satisfaction noted by career services. Career information was added in 2007 to the freshman orientation course, and in 2010, the course was renamed Your Academic Career and Success. Improvements were noted in the seniors’ satisfaction on the EBI survey, and in 2010, Businessweek increased its grade for the school’s job placement from C to B.

The Swanson School of Engineering has added model-eliciting activities (MEAs) to several courses, as previously mentioned. MEAs are a proven educational methodology for presenting complex, realistic, open-ended problems to students. In Probability and Statistics for Engineers 1 (ENGR 0020) and 2 (IE 1071), MEAs are used to reinforce concepts related to the learning outcome Designing and Conducting Experiments and Analyzing and Interpreting Data. The instructor for IE 1071 indicates in her ABET data collection spreadsheet results that she is seeing definite improvements in the scores on these projects, indicating attainment of the above learning outcome.

In Pitt’s decentralized model, assessment informs the planning and budgeting process at all levels, from the departments responsible for the programs, to the deans and directors, to the Provost. Faculty realize that it is in their best interest to prepare and execute good assessment plans and to set their new goals in light of the results of assessment of student learning. Assessment is now part of the Pitt culture. Today, all curricular changes must come with assessment plans, and Pitt’s Planning and Budgeting System has integrated the assessment of outcomes as a key factor.