Advise on Building an Assessment Plan from Dean Maryann Jones

More good stuff from the Building an Assessment Plan conference today: Maryann Jones, Dean Emerita, Western State College of Law, and Educational Consultant, spoke of the “paradigm shift” that legal education faces from a focus on teaching and faculty to a focus on student learning and accomplishments. Dean Jones related her experience in having to make that shift early on because her law school was an independent free-standing law school accredited by the regional accreditor and so was not “given a pass” on assessment as are many law schools that are part of larger university systems. She noted, however, that increasingly regional accreditors are paying attention to law schools, with more than one accreditation report noting that “The law school lags substantially behind the rest of the institution in terms of assessment of student learning.”

She provided a list of very helpful hints in building an assessment plan:

  • The plan has to be an integral part of the whole institution, not housed in an “assessment office” and not only in the curriculum, but must also include student services and co-curricular programs.
  • There must be an institutional commitment of resources
  • The faculty must own assessment. The plan must be built from the ground up, from the beginning, led by the faculty. You cannot simply hand the faculty a plan and tell them to “implement it” She emphasized the importance of one-on-one and small group conversations to develop that plan.
  • One size does not fit all. An assessment plan cannot be “plug and play” but must address its own mission and within its own resources and culture. On the other hand, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are many good models that can provide a starting point.
  • Be creative. Work with what you have.
  • Do not make too many learning outcomes. Keep it manageable.
  • Get training. Regional accreditation programs often provide good training. There are great books available.
  • When you start the dialogue on assessment, bring in a facilitator who is familiar with assessment in the law school context.
  • Do not underestimate student involvement. Talk about student learning outcomes in classes. Widely disseminate your program learning outcomes.
  • Include institutional research – assessment is data driven, so you have to determine how you are going to gather that data from the beginning.
  • Close the loop on assessment. How will you use your results. Is it on the agenda of faculty meetings? Do you have quality improvement or action plan at the end of an assessment cycle? Do you regularly conduct program review (comprehensive review periodically)?

Thank you Maryann!

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