Student Learning

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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Office of Accreditation and Assessment

Student Learning

Student learning outcomes are benchmarks for assessing what students know or can accomplish by the time they graduate. Student learning outcomes assessment is accordingly the systematic process of comparing measured outcomes against clearly stated goals for the knowledge, skills, habits of mind, and values that students should acquire during their academic career. Institution-wide assessment is a continuous cycle comprising a variety of activities, including curricular alignment, data collection, analysis, interpretation, reporting, and application of assessment results to both the improvement of instruction and refinement of the assessment process itself. 

Teachers College strives to adhere to the Nine Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning developed by the American Association for Higher Education and Accreditation(AAHEA). These principles help to clarify and streamline the process through which we pursue learning outcomes assessment, articulate the values and expectations for enhancing and institutionalizing a learning outcomes assessment culture, and are intended to inform all discussions pertaining to learning outcomes assessment across the College.

  1. The assessment of student learning begins with educational values.
    Assessment involves the development and implementation of a vision for the kinds of learning that we value most for students. When conducted meaningfully, assessment can be a beneficial tool for the institution, the teacher, and the learner. The educational values of an institution will determine, in part, not only what we assess, but also how we assess. The focus on values and mission helps to prevent assessment from becoming an exercise of measuring what is easy, rather than what educators care about. With the use of clearly defined assessment tools, students can gain timely constructive feedback about their understanding of the subject matter, and they may use this feedback to adjust their learning and to identify areas for further growth. Such processes foster an environment that benefits student concerns and enriches the educational experience.
  2. Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over time.
    The complex processes of learning intertwine what students know and what they can do with what they know. Learning involves knowledge, abilities, values, attitudes, and habits of mind that affect academic success and performance beyond the classroom. Assessment should include a mixed array of methods that are used over time to reveal change, growth, and increasing degrees of knowledge acquisition, integration, and, potentially, creation.
  3. Assessment works best when the program it seeks to improve has clear, explicitly stated purposes.
    Assessment is a goal-oriented process that involves comparing performance with purpose and expectations that are derived from an institution’s mission, program and course design, and student goals. In the absence of specificity, the process of assessment encourages clarity, focus, and direction.
  4. Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the experiences that lead to those outcomes.
    Outcomes, or where students “end up,” are of high importance. But in order to improve these outcomes, institutions need to know more about the student experience including the curriculum, teaching, and what leads to particular outcomes. Assessment can help programs better understand which students learn best under what types of conditions. This information facilitates the improvements of the entire learning processes for a variety of diverse student learning styles, needs, and aspirations.
  5. Assessment works best when it is ongoing not episodic.
    Assessment is most effective when it’s a cumulative and ongoing process of activities over time. The object is to measure progress toward intended goals over time, and in the spirit of continuous improvement. During this time, the assessment process itself should be re-evaluated and adjusted according to new information and insight.
  6. Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved.
    Student learning is a community-wide responsibility, and assessment is one way of enacting that responsibility. The aim is to involve people from different offices as well as administrators, students, and faculty. Assessment may also involve people from outside the immediate campus including alumni, trustees, and employers.
  7. Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about.
    Assessment recognizes the value of information as a key component of improvement. However, information must be closely tied to an important issue or question in order to be useful. The purpose of assessment is not to gather data and produce results. Rather, it is a process that starts with questions and moves to gathering and interpreting data that helps to guide improvement.
  8. Assessment is most likely to lead to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change.
    Assessment by itself changes little. Its contribution comes mostly from campuses where teaching and learning are highly valued and continuously improved. At these campuses, efforts to improve quality of education are a key component of the institution’s planning, budgeting, and personnel decisions.
  9. Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public.
    The public is often heavily invested in education. Institutions therefore have the responsibility to provide information about how students meet goals and expectations.
Teachers College, the nation’s oldest and largest graduate school of education, is dedicated to promoting excellence in education, and to overcoming the gap in educational access and achievement between the most and least advantaged groups in this country. Through programs of teaching, research, and service, the College draws upon the expertise of a diverse community of faculty in education, psychology, and health, as well as students and staff from across the country and around the world.

Historically and presently, Teachers College prepares practitioners and researchers in a wide range of disciplines across the fields of education, psychology, and health. Programs are designed to provide researchers, policymakers, practitioners, teachers, and educational leaders with the intellectual tools needed to re-imagine solutions to the complex challenges present within both local and international contexts.
Together, Teachers College’s three highly complementary and interrelated areas of study—education, psychology, and health—work to fulfill our vision of Teachers College as a preeminent international human resource development institution committed to systematic teaching and learning in all the major educative institutions.
Teachers College is committed to developing and supporting a cohesive community of scholars by nurturing a sense of equity, respect, and professionalism. The College welcomes the collaboration and active participation of students, administration, faculty, staff, and alumni in the various academic, experiential, and extra-curricular opportunities, and remains dedicated to initiatives and activities that support and advance the College's mission of diversity, equity, and excellence in education.
Teachers College’s student learning outcomes are directly informed by the College's mission and core values, as well as by the missions of academic departments and degree programs. While education and training models can vary widely based on the discipline or professional field and degree level, Teachers College is committed to ensuring that all students, regardless of their chosen program, receive systematic instruction and demonstrate achievement in the five competency areas (CAs):
  1. Professional Practice: Demonstrate mastery of the content and methodologies of their discipline or profession.
  2. Inquiry and Research: Use skills of inquiry, research, critical thinking, and problem solving to pursue and evaluate knowledge.
  3. Professionalism, and Lifelong Learning: Engage in the profession and take responsibility for their personal and professional growth.
  4. Communication, Collaboration, and Leadership: Demonstrate effective communication, collaboration and leadership skills to convert goals and commitments into action.
  5. Diversity, Multiculturalism, and Social Justice: Appreciate diversity, understand nature and causes of injustice, and take actions to promote a better world.
Teachers College is committed to assessing student achievement in each of the CAs and applying the results of outcomes assessment to continuous improvement of curriculum and instruction.
Teachers College is also committed to establishing and maintaining programs of study, service, and research that prepare competent, caring, and qualified professionals, while allowing for flexibility and specialization within each program of study. While the five CAs are shared across the College, differences in program missions and emphases and in students served necessitate differences in how academic programs approach the assessment process.

Individual program goals and outcomes are clearly tied to the College’s mission and the five CAs. Each academic degree program has mapped the five CAs to program-level goals and outcomes, and, in turn, to core course objectives within the programs. Program-level objectives are informed not only by the five CAs and the mission of each program but also, in many cases, by external standards either mandated or recommended by specialty professional associations. To the extent that they have been aligned with the five CAs, program-level outcomes provide a means by which the diverse range of assessment activities undertaken at the program and course level can be analyzed and summarized in College-wide internal and external reports.

The results of the alignment between the College’s CA’s and programs’ goals, curricula, and assessment activities are documented in the Program Assessment Plans created for each academic degree program at the College. For each of the five CAs, the programs first formulated the corresponding program-level goals, then identified learning and training/preparation opportunities, and, finally, selected or designed assessment methods to evaluate the degree to which students achieve the intended goals or outcomes.