Leap State Project
In February 2012, Massachusetts applied to be and was accepted as a Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) State by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). LEAP State status will allow the Commonwealth to work with other states to devise a system for inter-state comparisons of student learning outcomes. Our goal is to find a way to compare, and publicly report, the level of learning achieved by students in the community college, state university, and UMass segments of Massachusetts public higher education with the level of learning achieved by students at peer institutions in other states—without relying on a standardized test. We are currently seeking to form a collaborative with other states with similar interests and work with them to design and pilot test a system-level program that can work for all collaborating states. These efforts are being actively supported and sponsored by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) through its LEAP initiative and by the national State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) Association office.
Work to date in Massachusetts suggests several characteristics worthy of consideration for the design of an approach to learning outcomes assessment at the system level. Specifically, such a program should:
- be centered on embedded assessment using actual student work;
- be closely linked to curricula at the campus level and to the instructional work of the faculty;
- include elements that are common to all institutions in a system but also allow for the use of multiple measures, including additional measures deemed appropriate by individual institutions or groups of institutions;
- take into account significant differences among institutions and student bodies with respect to level of academic preparation;
- be feasible for wide use by departments, institutions and systems in terms of cost and faculty workload;
- include a metric (or metrics) to describe levels of student learning that are useful for planning and program improvement at campus and department levels;
- integrate campus and system assessment in ways suitable for public presentation to outside, non-academic stakeholders; and
- allow comparisons of student learning at the segmental level across state lines.
Project Structure within Massachusetts
Many public institutions in Massachusetts have agreed to participate in our LEAP State work as “primary partner campuses.” (Fifteen community colleges, six state universities, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell; the other UMass campuses will stay connected with the work through the participation of UML and may join more actively at a later date.) Massachusetts will form a Task Force on Statewide Assessment with representatives of each of the primary partner campuses appointed by the campus president or chancellor to provide oversight and guidance and to make sure there is good communication between the project and participating campuses as the work proceeds.
Two smaller working teams will be created drawing primarily on the membership of the statewide Task Force. A Massachusetts Team will be charged with developing a working model and design for a pilot test in Massachusetts, and a State Partnership Team will be established to work with what we hope will be counterpart groups in other participating states of the collaborative on the preliminary design and model for pilot testing in collaborating states. For the purpose of promoting consistency between the work of the two groups, Pat Crosson, who chaired the Working Group on Student Learning Outcomes and Assessment in 2010 and 2011, will chair both the Massachusetts Team and the State Partner Team. Dr. Peggy Maki, who has served as an assessment expert for Massachusetts public higher education during the past year and served on the VALUE Advisory Board, will also be a member of the Massachusetts team.
- States that have expressed potential interest in the multi-state collaboration are being invited to participate in an exploratory conference to be held at the SHEEO offices in Boulder, Colorado, in May 2012. This initial conference is intended to allow interested states to form a deeper understanding of the project and to move toward a decision regarding participation.
- Once a firm number of states have indicated a readiness to participate in the work, we anticipate holding a series of multi-state meetings to carry the work forward. We are beginning to seek funding support for such meetings.
- We also anticipate that participating states will want to establish their own in-state processes, similar in purpose to the Massachusetts Task Force on Statewide Assessment described below, so that the activities of the multi-state collaboration can be considered more widely among institutions within each state.
Massachusetts public higher education launched a statewide initiative in the area of learning outcomes assessment in late fall 2009. A broadly representative Working Group on Student Learning Outcomes and Assessment spent six months examining policies and best practices related to learning outcomes assessment at the campus level, looked at programs in Massachusetts, and made suggestions for ways to strengthen campus programs through collaboration and joint effort. During a second phase (.PDF) of its activities in 2010–11, the Working Group was charged to focus at the system level and develop a program of learning outcomes assessment linked to, and based on, strong campus-level programs. A major product of this phase was a proposed model that used LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes as a broad framework, built upon multiple-measure assessment approaches used on campuses, and envisioned aggregation of assessment results by segment and public reporting at the state level. It also called for partnerships with other states to develop appropriate models and enable comparisons.