Assessing Ourselves: Confirming Assumptions and Improving Student Learning by Efficiently and Fearlessly Assessing Student Learning Outcomes
Drexel Law Review, Vol. 3, p. 457, 2011
28 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2011 Last revised: 6 Dec 2012
Date Written: August 1, 2010
This Article contends that assessment of student learning outcomes is justified as an ABA accreditation standard given the history of questionable quality and unaccountability in post-secondary education, and the increasing reliance on accreditation as a form of consumer protection, particularly given the recent proliferation of online diploma mills. Furthermore, cognitive psychology and learning theory support intentional assessment as a means to improve student learning. Once legal educators understand the purpose, value, and use of assessment results - and how easily they can embed assessment into their courses - they will be eager to engage in the process. Indeed, regardless of the justification, assessment in legal education is appealing to educators because with evidence of student progress toward identified outcomes, educators can celebrate their accomplishments and confidently maintain their practices. When, however, evidence reveals that students are not reaching acceptable levels of competence in the identified learning outcomes, educators can take the opportunity to modify a course or program, re-tool teaching methods, or alter the institution’s curriculum. An initial assessment provides baseline information, enabling future comparative assessments to show whether curricular or pedagogical innovations are improving student learning. Educators can then base decisions on evidence of student learning, not individual professorial perceptions or unverified assumptions.
This Article first discusses the critical relationship and distinctions between grading, assessment of student learning outcomes, and the bar examination. It then provides an overview of the historical justification for assessment and some of the factors motivating assessment at law schools right now, including regional and programmatic accreditation standards and the ABA’s proposed standards. This Article next address several obstacles that faculty must overcome before implementing effective assessment, including fear of the results, time and resource constraints, and the perception that imperfect assessment is not valuable. It also discusses appropriate means of reflection and reaction to the results, known as "closing the loop." Finally, this Article will summarize two embedded assessment projects conducted at Western State University (WSU) College of Law to assess two learning outcomes in its first-year legal writing course, and how professors used the results of those assessment projects to improve student learning and the overall effectiveness of the course. The purpose in sharing these assessment projects is not to provide a blueprint for perfect assessment strategies, but rather to continue the much-needed dialogue of shared experiences and methodologies of assessing student learning outcomes, and to show how simple, efficient, and valuable the process can be.
Keywords: assessment, student learning outcomes, legal writing, law school, citation, advocacy, legal education
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