Notes from the ARC: Sitting at the Adult Table

I have fond childhood memories of family dinners with relatives and family friends at our local Chinese restaurant. Often, there was a kids’ table next to the adult table that was filled with “kid-friendly” dishes: fried rice, kung pao chicken, and some sort of green leafy vegetable (usually bok choy). Meanwhile, the adult table was filled with the fancy pan-fried crab, whole fish on the bone, and a complex and umami-filled seafood soup. 

Perhaps I was the kid with the sophisticated palate, but I would ditch my chicken and sneak up between my parent’s seats, hoping to get a taste of that fancy crab and seafood soup. Even when I became an adult, I was remained stuck at the “kids’ table” - after all, there were still people older than me – and I still looked longingly at the dishes that filled their table. At what point would I be invited to the adult table? 

When we think about our assessment practices, how often do we seat our students at the “kids’ table” and determine what will be served without inviting their opinion? How many times have we made decisions about their learning environment through our conclusions from our assessment, without asking whether our practices are inclusive of their experiences or perspectives? Are we even sitting at the same restaurant, much less the same table? 

The WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) Handbook of Accreditation states, “Appropriate stakeholders, including alumni, employers, practitioners, students, and others designated by the institution, are regularly involved in the assessment and alignment of educational programs.” As we lead our institutions in fostering a student-ready and student-centered learning environment, there are vast opportunities to engage our students in our assessment processes and shift the paradigm from “doing assessment to students” to “doing assessment with students”. 

Author Linda Suskie posits in Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide that involving students in assessment activities offers two major benefits for students. First, it provides an opportunity for students to be more active in their own learning. Second, it helps faculty and staff plan, implement, and use assessments more effectively. Engaging students in their learning involves allowing students to learn about how assessment is part of their overall learning experience and allows students to have agency over their learning. 

From course to program to institutional assessment, here are some questions you might ask to begin involving students in assessment: 

  • Have students had the opportunity to articulate their own learning goals? 
  • Are students involved in discussing whether an assignment has been effective for their learning? 
  • Have we articulated our program learning outcomes in a meaningful way to our students? 
  • What do students think about our assessment strategies? Do we share our institutional assessment data of student learning with students? 
  • Who is involved in the meaning making of the data? 
  • Who is seated at the table and whose voices are heard when we make decisions about student learning? 

Students at our institutions are ready to be partners and leaders in advancing educational equity in learning and assessment. The question is whether we are ready to shift the paradigm so we are all seated together at the “adult” table. 

Rebecca C. Hong, Ed.D is the Senior Director of Educational Effectiveness and Assessment/ALO at Loyola Marymount University. She will be presenting at the #2019ARC on Wednesday, April 10 during a session entitled, “Inclusive Vantage Points: Campus Assessment for Students by Students”.

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