Peer Review

From the Editor

As institutions are asked to document the quality of student learning, the VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) project is helping them define, document, assess, and strengthen student achievement of the essential learning outcomes that stand at the center of the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative. Recognizing that there are no standardized tests for many of the essential outcomes of an undergraduate education, the VALUE project has developed rubrics for faculty and institutions to collect convincing evidence of student learning.

While the word rubric has recently been associated with education and assessment, the term has an interesting etymology. According to Roman technical writers Columella, Vitruvius, and Pliny, in ancient times, rubrica was the name given to the red clay line that carpenters marked on wood as guides before making cuts. In medieval times, the term held particular meaning regarding religious texts and calendars. On those calendars, Saint’s days, feasts, and other holy days were hand lettered by monks in red ink and called rubrics—the origin of the expression “red letter days.” It is in the spirit of these two definitions that the term rubric is now used in an educational context—both acknowledging rubrics as significant measurement guides for teaching and learning and signaling the importance of this assessment tool.

In this issue of Peer Review, we feature articles from a range of campuses across the country on their use of the VALUE rubrics to assess student learning and to engage both faculty and students in a broad range of strategies for powerful assessment.

  • At the University of North Carolina–Wilmington, the use of course-embedded assignments and faculty leadership are the linchpins of a learning assessment process begun in the general education program. Four VALUE rubrics are being used initially across the curriculum. The attention to producing reliable results has provided useful information on student learning for improved pedagogy as well as evidence that supports the integral role of faculty in meaningful assessment.
  • The Brooklyn Campus of the Long Island University, a private, primarily minority-serving institution, has found the Integrative Learning VALUE rubric to be particularly useful in helping students connect learning in formal courses with community-based (and life) learning, commencing when students enter the university. Further, the rubric has allowed faculty and curriculum development to become a positive, collaborative endeavor that is creating a more coherent curriculum and learning experience for students.
  • The University of Michigan presents an example of how a large, multicampus university used the VALUE rubrics and adapted them to their own mission and purposes to develop an assessment instrument that is being used on two campuses and across multiple colleges within Michigan, and in both undergraduate and graduate programs. The initial pilot has resulted in the award of a FIPSE grant that will allow further development and testing through a six-campus consortium.
  • Syracuse University is leading another consortium of five campuses (later to be expanded to ten campuses) linking faculty, librarians, and other information literacy professionals in enhancing and assessing student information literacy.
  • The University of Kansas has engaged in an extensive research initiative to improve students’ written communication and critical thinking skills. Concentrating on large enrollment courses, faculty intentionally designed assignments and courses for students to demonstrate their learning that could then be evaluated through multiple measures—the use of grades, a standardized exam (the Collegiate Learning Assessment), and the VALUE rubrics.
  • Trudy Banta reminds us of the need for multiple measures of learning that can also provide guidance for improvement in curriculum and instruction, and the limitations of our proclivity to engage in institutional comparisons based on inadequate and inappropriate measures.

Since the VALUE rubrics were made available for download on the AAC&U website starting in 2010, nearly 11,000 first-time visitors have accessed them. As such, the collection of articles in this issue provides just a glimpse of the rich work being done on campuses with these rubrics. These efforts are helping institutions give students a much-needed compass by assessing essential learning outcomes and providing meaningful feedback that will foster student success throughout their undergraduate educations and beyond.

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