James Madison University has engaged in committed assessment of student learning in its General Education Program for over twenty-five years.

How do we do it?

JMU conducts two assessment days each year to assess learning in two target populations. All entering first-year students (pretest group) are required to participate in August assessment day, which takes place as part of a required four-day orientation. Since there are a large number of general education and student development instruments administered, we randomly place students in different testing rooms using the last two digits of their student ID numbers, so students only take the assessment instruments given in their testing room. For example, just over four thousand students entered JMU in fall 2010, however about 1,500 completed the Natural World-9 Cluster Three assessment test. The second assessment day occurs in February and assesses sophomores and juniors. All students who have completed 45-70 credit hours (posttest group) are required to participate, regardless of how they earned the credit hours. Therefore, JMU, transfer, AP, dual enrollment, and IB credit hours are included in the count. Typically, the pretests and posttests were approximately 1.5 years apart, but some students took 2.5 years to earn 45-70 credits, and others took only one semester if they entered with credits. JMU cancels classes on this spring assessment day. As a result, there are no room or time conflicts for any student. As with the first assessment day, we assign students to testing rooms using the last two digits of their student ID numbers. Since these numbers do not change, we arrange room assignments so that students take the same instruments they took when they entered the university. This procedure allows us to generate a large, random sample of students who take the same assessment instruments as first-years and again as sophomores. Therefore, we can look at change in scores over time. 

Where do we get our instruments?

Instruments are developed by our own General Education Program faculty with the support of our Center for Assessment and Research Studies (CARS). Each instrument is designed to measure the specific learning outcomes of its area and cluster. There are at present numerous instruments, some of which are available to other colleges and universities. Together, they tell us a great deal about our students’ knowledge, abilities, and aptitudes. 

What do we know about student learning? 

Overall, students who complete their general education requirements score higher than they did as entering first-year students. In addition, students who complete their general education requirements at JMU generally score higher than those who completed the requirements via transfer or dual enrollment credits. In some cases, these differences are quite large and impressive. Students who have completed all of their requirements in a cluster achieve the largest improvements. Students with partial completion of a cluster show less improvement, but their gains are usually larger than for students who have not yet attempted any course work. These are positive results, as not many campuses can make claims about direct measures of student learning.

For more information about Assessment at JMU, visit the CARS website.

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