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Real-Time Student Assessment: Meeting the Imperative for Improved Time to Degree, Closing the Opportunity Gap, and Assuring Student Competence for 21st Century Needs

reviewed by Vincent Genareo - September 06, 2018

coverTitle: Real-Time Student Assessment: Meeting the Imperative for Improved Time to Degree, Closing the Opportunity Gap, and Assuring Student Competence for 21st Century Needs
Author(s): Peggy L. Maki
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 1620364883, Pages: 214, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

Higher education is undergoing fundamental shifts in terms of student demographics, expectations for liberal arts education, and accountability for setting and meeting outcomes. These shifts represent opportunities for higher education institutions and programs to ensure that they are responsive to social needs. Providers of higher education should gather, analyze, and interrogate appropriate data to ensure an equitable and rigorous educational path for all students. Peggy L. Maki’s book, Real-Time Student Assessment: Meeting the Imperative for Improved Time to Degree, Closing the Opportunity Gap, and Assuring Student Competence for 21st Century Needs, analyzes assessment at the institutional, program, and, to an extent, classroom level to explain how real-time assessment can be a transformative tool for institutional and program self-study and improvement.


The book begins with a forward by George D. Kuh introducing the concept of real-time assessment, which he describes as an assessment of a full student population (as opposed to the traditional sampling techniques often used in assessment) around which “data are available in a time frame that makes it possible for students and faculty to modify their behavior with an eye toward achieving the intended outcomes” (p. x). When data are monitored in real time, systems can be developed that alert support teams about student underachievement and necessary interventions.


Maki’s book has six chapters supported by statistics, appendices, and figures with assessment rubrics and system screenshots. The book also includes case studies of two- and four-year higher education institutions that have been successful in their assessment approaches. In the introduction, Maki firmly makes the case for real-time assessment, describing traditional assessment techniques as having “time gaps that typically exist between assessment cycles” (p. 4) that disengage faculty from the process and provide few improvement opportunities for students.


The first chapter discusses current and projected student demographics, offering a glimpse into the diversity of American students and the educational disparities that exist among some groups. While the chapter is informative and data-driven, it is well beyond the scope of this book to offer the necessary depth of discussion about the issues of diverse student achievement and assessment.


The second chapter introduces outcomes-based frameworks, including the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ (AAC&U’s) Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative and the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP). Outcomes-based education frameworks such as these guide institutions to consider what they want students to know and do during an academic program of study. Maki offers in-depth explanations of the frameworks and provides excerpts from the AAC&U’s Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) rubric, which assesses liberal learning outcomes such as critical thinking.


Chapter Three introduces and explains the five core learner-centered commitments, which Maki considers foundational to outcomes-based frameworks. The commitments allow institutions and programs to be “consistently informed about and respond in a timely fashion to students’ equitable progress” (p. 59). The chapter offers substantive examples of universities addressing student achievement gaps and redesigning courses to meet new needs. Of particular note is that some of this chapter focuses on President Obama and his administration’s initiatives and visions, while President Trump’s educational vision is now being implemented. Perhaps a future issue of this book would include updates that reflect the current administration’s stances and goals.


The fourth chapter brings real-time assessment into the context of practice, offering six guiding principles for putting it into action. I was pleased to see that the second guiding principle includes a variety of internal stakeholders; Maki ensures the readers understand that “failing to include and draw on the knowledge and experiences of part-time faculty limits the pool of possible interventions that may be implemented to address the gaps that exist across an institution’s student demographics” (p. 83), and that these faculty sometimes teach a greater proportion of underrepresented students. Interestingly, the sixth guiding principle explains the importance of institutions valuing, acknowledging, and rewarding the effort and time commitment of faculty and staff assessment work; it is by far the shortest section of any of the six principles, at only six sentences.


The fifth chapter describes the technology that is available and used for real-time assessment work, including learning management systems, assessment management systems, data mining tools, ePortfolios, and other platforms. This chapter will be of particular interest to those who need to know about available tools and who want to read case studies from universities that have implemented these technologies to assess, document, and report student learning.


The final chapter describes taking real-time student assessment to scale. It relies heavily on case studies, and effectively so. The case studies describe how universities selected assessments to meet their needs and the outcomes of collaborative planning and assessment implementation. These case studies also provide tips for achieving faculty buy-in for assessment practices.


Maki’s book offers a strong foundation for faculty, staff, and administrators who are interested in strengthening their assessment practices at the institution and program levels. Indeed, she presents a convincing case that real-time assessment is a best practice, particularly for those seeking to improve the experiences of currently enrolled students. At points, its recommendations verge on utopian, since institutions are often burdened by a dreadfully low propensity for change, a lack of resources, and poor faculty buy-in (due in part to assessment burnout, assessment misunderstanding, philosophical differences, the low value placed on assessment work, and the fear of losing academic freedom if assessments become standardized and assigned in their courses). I stand with Maki, though, in that the information she presents is important enough that there must be a high bar set for what institutions and programs can and should do.


I felt two issues were not discussed in as much detail as I would have liked in a book like this. First, it is often presented that real-time assessment will help to remediate many students’ academic setbacks. While that may be true, there are many aspects of a student’s lived experience that cannot be measured by assessments, but which nevertheless play a role in academic underperformance. The second issue is that the book, by its title, seeks to close the opportunity gap, but I did not get a sense that opportunity gaps were fully fleshed out, nor that they could necessarily be closed by assessment or the achievement of equitable outcomes; opportunity gaps may still exist even if a student is able to do well at a university. However, these matters could be further explored through supplemental readings or through discussion among assessment groups, faculty, or in graduate courses. Maki’s book will allow that discussion to occur.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 06, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22496, Date Accessed: 5/24/2022 4:50:21 AM

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About the Author
  • Vincent Genareo
    Salisbury University, Maryland
    E-mail Author
    VINCENT GENAREO is an assistant professor of educational psychology at Salisbury University, Maryland. He teaches courses on K-12 learning and assessment, serves on assessment committees from the program to the university levels, and serves as an external evaluator for several programs serving middle and high school students. His publications focus on problem-based learning in higher education and mathematics assessment, but his recent projects have examined the educational experiences of people with upper limb differences.
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