CARS presents at AALHE

Dr. Sara Finney, 1st year PhD student Kate Schaefer & 2nd year MA student Mara McFadden presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education (AALHE) in Providence, RI in June 2022. Their session was titled “Students’ Understanding of and Engagement in Assessments Used for Institutional Improvement and Accountability”.

Sara, Kate and Mara discussed three studies they conducted to uncover students’ understanding of outcomes assessment, students’ engagement while being assessed, and if this engagement could be increased via an efficient strategy. Students’ understanding of the purpose of outcomes assessment was high, whether they were incoming or advanced students, who were assessed in-person or online. This understanding was positively related to expended effort on assessments. Using another sample of students, they found that effort was high for many students but unfortunately notably low for a group of students who tested remotely during the pandemic, with these scores impacting inferences from assessment data. Fortunately, in their third study, they found that effort could be improved via a quick strategy prior to student completing assessments. In short, whenever higher education professionals can identify the presence of student disengagement in assessment, they need to adjust score interpretations and identify strategies to increase student engagement. Resources for measuring, interpreting, and increasing student engagement during assessments were shared with conference attendees.


In addition to this session being one of the most highly attended at the conference, Kate and Mara were asked by a journal editor to submit their work for publication. Moreover, Kate and Mara were able to network with experts in the field, such as Dr. Monica Stitt-Bergh (past president of AALHE) and Dr. Gavin Henning (leading scholar in equitable assessment).



Sara also presented her thoughts on learning improvement via an invited panel with scholars in the domain.


Although this was not Kate’s first time attending and presenting at an academic conference, it was her first in-person conference since the start of the pandemic. Kate was able to attend numerous sessions related to higher education assessment and learning improvement with many of those sessions focusing on equity in assessment. Additionally, she was able to attend a session related to equity in student affairs assessment, which is of particular importance to her as lead of the Student Affairs Assessment Support Services team at JMU. Not only did the conference introduce her to various forms of assessment at different institutions, but it also gave her an in-person introduction to various experts in the field. Kate noted that the success of the conference was a fantastic way for her to end her time as a master’s student in the Quantitative Psychology program and begin her time as a PhD student in the Assessment and Measurement program.


Mara attended multiple sessions, which enhanced her understanding of the importance of assessment in higher education. Specifically, she attended sessions on equity in assessment which will contribute to her work as a graduate assistant for the professional development facet of CARS. She has been working with her colleagues throughout the academic year to implement an equity-minded assessment portion to Assessment 101, a workshop hosted by CARS annually. Mara’s exposure to experts in the field was a wonderful reminder of the importance of the work she does at JMU.

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