Proving Our Worth


If you have attended James Madison University in the last 25 years, then you have participated in Assessment Day. The annual event for sophomores and seniors is designed and managed by JMU's Center for Assessment and Research Studies.

CARS Executive Director Dr. Donna Sundre says it blows people's minds in her profession when she tells them that JMU has a 93 percent response rate on Assessment Day. "They can't believe it but this is what happens at a school that pays attention to student learning," said Sundre. "Assessment Day is part of the JMU culture."

Student participation, the assessment instruments CARS designs and the university's commitment to student learning make JMU an international leader in assessment and measurement.

Thanos Patelis, vice president of research and analysis for the College Board, said there is a lot of attention in our country on K-12 assessment but not enough on higher education. "When we think about what is important for our country, we need more assessment centers like JMU has," said Patelis. "JMU is a front-runner and one of the few institutions that do it right."

JMU's commitment to assessment started in 1985 when the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia awarded JMU a grant to study assessment and accountability at the university. This was followed in 1988 with permanent funding from SCHEV for an Assessment Center.

Highlights of the last 25 years include creating a doctoral program in assessment and measurement, supporting JMU's first spin-off company, Madison Assessment, and being recognized an unprecedented two times in the last six years by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as recipient of the CHEA Award for Outstanding Institutional Practice in Student Learning Outcomes.

Sundre says it's the scope, breadth and depth of assessment that make JMU stand out. "We conduct assessment on the General Education program, student affairs and on all the majors," she said. From the beginning CARS included student affairs in its assessment efforts, which is unusual at most universities.

"We hire measurement experts, so we create our own instruments," said Sundre. Other institutions started to take notice of JMU's expertise several years ago and began purchasing assessment tests written by the CARS staff. In 2010 this led to the creation of Madison Assessment LLC, a company that markets tests licensed by CARS to colleges and universities around the country and the globe.

CARS is busier than ever. Each month Sundre publishes a progress report. It reads, "Progress toward achieving the CARS mission during the month was evidenced by the following activities and achievements." The April report was six pages of research, papers and presentations.

"JMU is a very self-reflective institution that revolves around student growth and development and that is the heart of what assessment is," said Sundre.

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Published: Friday, June 3, 2011

Last Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2018

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