Book Review: Assessment for Excellence: The Philosophy and Practice of Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education

During the fall 2016 term, I taught a graduate level course for the University of Wyoming on program planning and evaluation. I used the book list that had already been prepared for the course, the books included Developing Programs in Adult Education: A Conceptual Programming ModelProgram Planning and Evaluation for the Public Manager, and Assessment for Excellence: The Philosophy and Practice of Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education*.  I have previously reviewed the first two books and now will provide my thought on Assessment for Excellence. The first time I read Assessment for Excellence was for this class. I was quite pleased with the book and the learners in the class also found the book to be quite informative and beneficial.

The authors, Alexander W. Astin and Anthony Lising Antonio, focused on two key areas: assessment using the input-environment-output (I-E-O) model and assessment for talent development. In my mind, they were successful. They outlined their case in 368 pages spread over twelve chapters and an appendix. The appendix focused on statistical analysis of longitudinal data. The chapters included:

  • The philosophy and logic of assessment
  • A conceptual model for assessment
  • Assessing outcomes
  • Assessing student inputs
  • Assessing the environment
  • Analyzing assessment data
  • Use of assessment results
  • Building a database
  • Assessment as direct feedback to the learner
  • Assessment and equity
  • Assessment and public policy
  • The future of assessment

In the first chapter, the authors discussed many of the different ways assessment is used in higher education. Higher education uses assessment to evaluate students performance; place students in programs, courses, and institutions; determining if a student meets graduation requirements; measuring for course success. Assessments are also used to evaluate faculty and institutions. The authors questioned whether many of the assessment practices used are the best practices because based on their model, assessments are often missing important elements. For example, when students take the SAT exam, what are the results measured against. There is an assumption that all students are alike and received instruction in the same fashion. In Assessment for Excellence, the authors looked at assessment through an input-environment-output model. Using this model, they first measure the input—everything they can find out about an incoming class of students. In the end, they measure the outcomes to determine how successful the students became. They also measure the environment—the changes occurring between the input and the output to determine which treatments worked best.

In the book, Austin and Antonio critiqued the use of assessment in higher education. In many cases, higher education institutions are not focused on talent development but rather on the reputation of the institution. Austin and Antonio explained that assessment should be used for developing the talent of the students. In my opinion, this was an interesting discussion that transcended the book. I am also of the opinion that higher education is more about selection and sorting then talent development.

A number of the chapters focused on the I-E-O assessment model. Across a number of chapters, they defined and explained each of the elements. The input is the beginning state. It is what you start with. The output is the ending state or what you ended up with. What a lot of institutions fail to do is to take into account the environment.

Austin and Antonio stressed that assessment should really be focused on institutional decision-making. Decisions should be data supported. The authors outlined various statistical analysis techniques to include descriptive analysis as well as causal analysis. They provided a very useful chapter on data analysis that covered techniques such as correlation and regression analysis as well as cross tabulation. This was a very good review of techniques I had learned in my research classes. The appendix provided an in-depth look at analysis for longitudinal data.

“Proper use of assessment data has one primary objective: to stimulate actions that will ultimately enhance the talent development process” (Astin & Antonio, 2012, p. 139).

Within the book, there was also a lot of discussion about the use of feedback. They provided ample examples of how feedback could be used in the classroom and for faculty development.

Perhaps one of the best parts of the book was the discussion about building a cohort database. The authors emphasized the importance of having a database dedicated to tracking the progress of each cohort of students. In this database, the institutions would collect input, environment, and outcome data for each student. Students would be assigned to the class to which they were originally assigned. The database would track the students through their entire lifetime. Austin and Antonio’s position was “not to collect and use student input, environmental, and outcome data on a regular basis would seem to be educationally irresponsible”(Astin & Antonio, 2012, p. 166). In this chapter, they also talked about strategies for building a database, structuring of the database, and securing of the database.

All in all, I was very pleased with his book. It is a book that I will use if I were to teach this class again. It is also a book I am recommending to members of the Jamestown Community College leadership team because I believe there are some valuable lessons in the book. Lessons that could be used to help increase our enrollment and retention. If you are looking for a book on assessment in higher education, I would definitely recommend that you read Assessment for Excellence.

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