A Simple, Low-Cost Assessment Process?

Professor Andrea Curcio (Georgia State) has published A Simple Low-Cost Institutional Learning-Outcomes Assessment Process, 67 J. Legal Educ. 489 (2018). It’s an informative article, arguing that, in light of budgetary pressures, faculty should use AAC&U style rubrics to assess competencies across a range of courses. The results can then be pooled and analyzed.  In her abstract on SSRN, Professor Curcio states:

The essay explains a five-step institutional outcomes assessment process: 1. Develop rubrics for institutional learning outcomes that can be assessed in law school courses; 2. Identify courses that will use the rubrics; 3. Ask faculty in designated courses to assess and grade as they usually do, adding only one more step – completion of a short rubric for each student; 4. Enter the rubric data; and 5. Analyze and use the data to improve student learning. The essay appendix provides sample rubrics for a wide range of law school institutional learning outcomes. This outcomes assessment method provides an option for collecting data on institutional learning outcomes assessment in a cost-effective manner, allowing faculties to gather data that provides an overview of student learning across a wide range of learning outcomes. How faculties use that data depends upon the results as well as individual schools’ commitment to using the outcomes assessment process to help ensure their graduates have the knowledge, skills and values necessary to practice law.

This is an ideal way to conduct assessment, because it involves measuring students’ actual performance in their classes, rather than on a simulated exercise that is unconnected to a course and in which, therefore, they may not give full effort. This article is particularly valuable to the field because it includes sample rubrics for a range of learning outcomes that law schools are likely to measure. It’s definitely worth a read!

My only concern is with getting faculty buy-in.  Professor Curcio states, “In courses designated for outcomes measurement, professors add one more step to their grading process. After grading, faculty in designated courses complete an institutional faculty-designed rubric that delineates, along a continuum, students’ development of core competencies encompassed by a given learning outcome. The rubric may be applied to every student’s work or to that of a random student sample.”

Grading is painful as it is.  And my experience serving as Associate Academic Dean reminds me that it is often very difficult to get faculty to turn in grades on time.  Now there will be another step in the process?  What are the incentives for faculty to participate in the exercise?  Alternatively, what are the consequences for not turning in their completed rubrics?

Professor Curcio notes that faculty at her school reported that completing the rubrics took very little time, presumably because they completed them immediately after doing their real grading.  Other ways to minimize the burden on faculty include using sampling of students and courses, which means that a particular professor will not have to do this kind of assessment work more than once every three or four years.

Professor Curcio points out that there is an additional benefit to using rubrics in a number of courses: They can serve as a formative assessment tool, giving students feedback on how they can improve in the future.

This type of exercise would provide a school with a treasure trove of information about their students, which could then be correlated with LSAT, UGPA, and other factors. In addition, the results could help a school to make adjustments to its curriculum or to help faculty employ different teaching methods.  (LC)