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Assessment Day

All JMU undergraduates participate in Assessment Day.  As incoming first year students, JMU undergraduates are tested on their knowledge in one of the general education areas of communication, history, science, mathematics, or fine arts. In addition, students may complete tests measuring critical thinking, cultural knowledge, or intellectual and personal development.

After 45 to 70 credit hours are earned, typically in the second year at JMU, students are tested again. All students are assigned the same tests they completed as entering first year students at the second Assessment Day; this allows JMU to assess how much has been gained from the academic experience.

Assessment results are reported within JMU and to external audiences as well. Internally, assessment results are shared with faculty committees and administrators across the campus to improve programs.  Externally, JMU releases findings on how students perform in general education areas, and this information is used to compare the performance of JMU students to students from other universities in Virginia. 

For more information, you can call the Center for Assessment and Research Studies at (540) 568-6706.

What is assessment?

Generally, assessment "is the systematic basis for making inferences about the learning and development of students. More specifically, assessment is the process of defining, selecting, designing, collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and using information to increase students' learning and development" (T.D. Erwin, Assessing Student Learning and Development, p. 15).

James Madison University initiated its institutional assessment program in 1986. Assessment studies focuses on several functional areas: the major; general education; high risk students; alumni; student affairs; off-campus instruction; and ad hoc studies, such as the impact of multimedia instruction.

With support from the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia, a speech communication competency project was started in 1994. As a result of this project, a process has been developed whereby students can earn college credit by demonstrating public speaking knowledge and skill.

Each academic program and educationally related student affairs program designates an assessment coordinator who works with faculty in the Center for Assessment and Research Studies (CARS). Assessment faculty work with other student affairs faculty and staff in the delineation of educational affairs, selection and design of assessment methods, and analytical strategies. About 90% of our assessment methods are designed locally. We have two formal Assessment Days each year, one in the fall, and one in the spring. All new entering first-year students participate in the fall Assessment Day, which is held the day before classes begin. During spring assessment, classes are canceled and all students with 45-70 credit hours (typically second-semester sophomores and first-semester juniors) participate in assessment. With both sessions, we systematically assess entering students in relation to our general education and developmental goals. The spring Assessment Day also affords the academic major programs the opportunity to assess their seniors as part of their departmental assessment designs.

At JMU, we have a tradition of commitment to the development of the "total" student. We know that each student will grow and develop in many ways during their academic career, and our faculty has worked hard for many years to develop these assessment programs. We use the information provided by students from all of our assessment efforts to study and further improve our academic and support programs for both current and future students. The information provided by students has directly influenced and enhanced the quality of James Madison University's educational and curricular programs.

Why does JMU have assessment?

Assessment enables the University to answer important questions being asked increasingly by students, parents, employers, and legislators about what a college degree is worth. Students who take assessment tests at JMU are helping the University understand and improve the quality of education being offered on our campus. Everyone benefits when JMU builds into your education a process that helps academic programs and courses systematically improve. In addition, the Commonwealth of Virginia mandates that all state universities assess student learning to ensure quality.

At JMU, assessment is an ongoing improvement-oriented process in which all students and programs participate.

What is JMU trying to find out by assessing students?

Assessment at JMU is designed to answer many questions including:

  • Which courses contribute most to student learning?
  • Are each of the programs achieving the goals and objectives for the general education clusters?
  • How do JMU students change and develop over time?
  • Do students have the competencies to do upper level course work and be successful citizens?
  • Are the majors achieving the goals and objectives they have specified?
  • Is JMU successfully preparing students for work or graduate school?
  • How can JMU continue to improve as the needs of students and society change? 

How does JMU attempt to address these questions with assessment?

During the first year of courses students will be assessed many times including assessments that are embedded within general education courses. The assessments administered during the sophomore year are used as a "posttest" in order to determine how the students' knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs have changed over the course of their time at JMU. In general, students will complete the same tests as sophomores that they completed as freshmen.