Michelle Baron on Building a Culture of Assessment

Well, hello there! I’m Michelle Baron, Academic Assessment Specialist at Utah Valley University, and an Independent Evaluation Strategist.

I’d like to share some tricks of the trade with you in building a culture of assessment in higher education. As an evaluator, the main idea for me is helping people understand what works, why it works, and how to use the resulting ideas and information to improve programs and organizations. These same principles apply directly to building a culture of assessment in higher education.

Why build a culture of assessment?

Building a culture of assessment in institutions of higher education is a multi-faceted process filled with both successes and potential pitfalls. Evaluators must take into account many internal and external factors, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • National and specialized accreditation requirements
  • Federal, state, and local government education policies and standards
  • Internal ease of access to information through institutional research or other entities
  • Internal capacity of entities to take the initiative for assessment activities
  • The willingness and ability of entities to use assessment results to enhance student learning and strengthen programs

Hot Tip #1: Speak their language:

Many times organizations do assessment, but because they may use different terminology, there is often a disconnect between the evaluator and the organization in communicating ideas and information. Understanding the terms they use and using them in your conversations helps get the message across more smoothly.

Hot Tip #2: Keep assessment visible:

In the daily activities of faculty and staff members, assessment is often last on their to-do list – if it’s there at all. I make a point to meet early and often with associate deans, department chairs, and assessment coordinators to help them develop and use assessment in their areas of responsibility. Regular communication with these entities keeps assessment at the forefront of their minds and helps them to make connections between assessment and their other activities (e.g., teaching courses, engaging in research, developing strategic plans).

Hot Tip #3: Recognize assessment champions:

There are often many people within an organization who see the benefit to assessment and actively use it in their departments and programs. I take opportunities to recognize these assessment champions in meetings and other public events and activities. This not only validates their efforts and helps them know their work is well received, but recognizing them also introduces them to other members of the campus community as potential assessment resources.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

14 thoughts on “Michelle Baron on Building a Culture of Assessment”

  1. Hi Michelle,
    I enjoyed reading the article. It reiterates the importance of assessment and understanding the different scope of assessments we can go through. Having the desire to build a culture of assessment implies there is a willingness and a move towards change. Conducting assessments leads us to create changes based on decisions that are educated.
    What also surprised me is that as easy as it is to make the connection to education right away, I actually thought of a previous place of employment. There was a high turnover rate but administration had never done anything to determine the reasons/causes for it. A high turnover rate also can also affect school wide results; a factor that could hinder future evaluative processes. I do think in a situation like that, building a culture of assessment on staff retention is a stepping stone to getting the dialogue going on evaluation and how it can be beneficial. Recognizing and allowing for a personal connection to the assessment provides a space where it can grow on a grander scope.

    Thanks Michelle.

  2. Alexa Michelle Easterling-Walker

    The effectiveness of assessment is a much-needed plan of action and skill when determining if the projectors of a goal are met or need continual enhancement. More importantly, in higher education, assessment is utilized when evaluating an institution at large when researching the outcomes of academic departments, retention rates of academic enrichment programs, student engagement, and student services. As mentioned, to “enhance student learning and strengthen programs” is a primary factor when delving into the worthiness of a community college or university and if the learning environment is providing quality support to help the student reach their academic potential. In the sense of an assessor speaking “their language” one must understand the dynamic and institutional style of the operational environment of a college campus before providing feedback and immediate changes. First, there must be a foundational understanding between administrators, accreditation leaders, and evaluators to get the scope of the institutional effectiveness based on student concerns. In the sense of keeping “assessment visible” is for evaluators/assessors to visit on campus classrooms when professors are actively lecturing a class they specialize in based on the field of their concentration. In recognizing “assessment champions,” is bringing forth “public events and activities” which are academically based, but interactive in the case of keeping students actively involved in on-campus affairs usually resulting in joining varying student clubs and organizations based on interest or major. Such student involvement at any higher learning institution gives students an opportunity to become aware of student concerns which expound on students’ rights including socio-political (locally & nationally) awareness and other polarizing issues that may affect them. The importance of assessment leads to logical inquiry of “Is there a way to teach the subject better, thereby promoting better learning?” Yet there is a collaborative input when assessors interview students of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Overall, this blog is insightful when developing a culture of assessment especially when higher learning is a vital incentive when learning is a lifelong experience for generations to come.

    1. Hi Alexa,

      I couldn’t agree more with your comments. I’m glad you find the information valuable to your evaluation work.

      All the best to you,


  3. Hi Michelle,

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Working in an academic institution that has built its reputation on co-operative education and its focus on STEM programs, I think it is essential that there exists a culture of assessment.

    Especially in my role as a Career Advisor, it is important that the employment and co-operative education services provided to students are reflective of the ever-changing market landscape – and with the emergence of Big Data, AI, Quantum computing and other developments, this is becoming more and more prevalent. I particularly agree with the idea that evaluation should consider many factors including the ease of access to information through research or other entities and I think it is important that this extends outside of the internal capacity and onto external stakeholder groups – i.e. the industry.
    In a co-operative education program, it is simply not enough to confine academic and student service curriculum within the realms of academia. I believe that it is important to have constant dialogue with key internal and external stakeholder groups – students, staff, industry employers, faculty – in order to facilitate the transfer of information, which in turn supports program evaluations reflective of the changing industry.



    1. Hi Sam,

      I’m glad you find the information valuable. Yes, constant and consistent communication is key with stakeholders. As that ongoing relationship develops, that helps create and sustain the culture of assessment.

      Best wishes in your evaluation endeavors,


  4. Hi Michelle,

    It looks like I am not the first one responding to you who is a graduate student from Queen’s University. I am also new to the world of evaluation and teach at a Community College in Toronto.

    I found your article to be very interesting as I would love to create a culture of assessment at our school. However, as you mention, there can be some challenges with this as the management does not show a “willingness and ability…to use assessment results to enhance student learning and strengthen programs”.

    We perform student evaluation surveys and measure program success, but management seems resistant to examining the results of these assessments. I decided to gently question a manager about this and she stated that she did not believe in assessments because she had one bad experience as one student she had while teaching gave her a negative assessment and it hurt her reputation at the school. She claimed that other managers had similar experiences.

    This is why I like the advice that you give as it seems very positive and may be able to help this manager get over her bad experience and take assessments more seriously.

    I am going to follow your advice and see how it works by speaking the language of my managers (team-building), keeping assessment visible by always reminding them how important it is, and recognizing other faculty members who are assessment champions (some seek out feedback from students without being prompted). Is there anything else I can do to get this manager over her bad experience with assessments to create a culture of assessment?



    1. Michelle Seidling

      Hi Mike,

      I’m glad to see that Queens University is alive and well with regard to evaluation and student assessment. 🙂

      It sounds like you have a great handle on student evaluations and other aspects of assessment. It is important, however, to distinguish between assessments as students rating teacher performance and assessments as evaluating student learning. There is a distinct difference that is often overlooked.

      It sounds like some of the managers there are focusing on assessment as evaluating teacher performance. You may want to talk to them one on one terms of what specifically happened in that situation and do your best to alleviate any fears or concerns. Hopefully they will not allow that one incident to define them and be able to move on in terms of evaluation.

      It is also important to help them understand that assessment is not only about teacher performance, but it is also about student learning. Yes, the faculty members have a lot to do with student learning, but that’s not the only aspect of student learning with regard to assessment. Student assessment also involves goalsetting with regard to programs and courses, and providing opportunities for student learning using a variety of methods.

      As you continue to speak with managers and faculty members, I would encourage you to help them understand the breadth and depth of student learning and help them to move forward in a way that helps students to progress in a variety of ways for their success.

      I wish you all the best as you continue in your evaluation and assessment endeavors!


  5. Michelle,

    I am currently completing my Masters of Education at Queen’s University in Canada and I am fairly new to the world of evaluation. Your idea of “building a culture of assessment” really resonated with me. I currently work in a post secondary educational environment where assessment is somewhat of a constant, whether it be for student learning, or for the effect of the program itself. After reading your post, it encouraged me to look into other aspects of the “culture of assessment” leading me to some excellent resources on the subject matter.

    One such resource was from Ryerson University in Toronto Canada, http://ryersonstudentaffairs.com/what-is-a-culture-of-assessment/ and within this, the questions was posed “So what can you do, personally, to contribute to our assessment culture?” I did not consider that I am in a position to be involved in assessment essentially daily.

    After reading your post, I am very excited to start to find a way to become an “assessment champion” of my own and then be able to coach others to do the same.

    Kerry Drake

      1. Hi Kerry,

        Thanks for your comments. Your enthusiasm for building a culture of assessment is contagious! I enjoyed reading about how you are catching the vision of assessment.
        I strongly believe you are already on the road toward becoming an assessment champion with the education and experience you have acquired so far.

        Here are three recommendations to get you started:

        1. Build an environment in which assessment can thrive. Look at the environment in which you work or are associated with. Is the focus on people just “doing their job”, or are people interested in a process of improvement? Creating openness in communication and sharing ideas is a great first step to building trust within the organization – which is how assessment develops.

        2. Ask the right questions. Building a culture of assessment involves going beyond the surface and asking the tough questions such as, “Why does something work/not work? What are the goals (of a program, process, etc.)? How well are those goals communicated? Are there other factors to success that have not been addressed?” Demonstrating your genuine interest and commitment to success can help get people thinking in the direction of assessment.

        3. Find and communicate success stories. There are often little bits of assessment going on in organizations. They may be called by different names. They may not be given much attention. Call out those stories and dig deeper to understand both the magnitude of the success and what it would take to replicate across the organization.

        I hope these starting points are helpful for you. I look forward to hearing from you along the way as you become an assessment champion and help those around you to do the same.

        All the best,


  6. This is great: “I take opportunities to recognize these assessment champions in meetings and other public events and activities.” How do you recognize them? We are starting a research to practice / evaluation use in our organization and I think recognition would be a great incentive.

    1. Hi Megan,

      Congratulations on starting a research to practice/evaluation use program! I hope it’s going well so far.

      We recognize assessment champions in our monthly meetings with the colleges/schools, during our presentations at Faculty Convocation (a welcome back event for the faculty held in the fall) and Summer University (a professional development event for staff members held in the spring), and by publishing success stories on our Academic Assessment website (www.uvu.edu/academicassessment). We are also planning to begin a monthly spotlight of faculty and staff members who actively use assessment to strengthen their programs and enhance student learning.

      I hope this information helps. Best of luck to you with your evaluation/assessment program.


  7. Tricia Griffin

    Thanks for your comments they are so valid. I am an Academic Advisor at The Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki in New Zealand which is your equivalent to a community college and we have been working hard to build a culture of evaluation/self assessment which includes assessment. This has definitely meant that we have encountered and had to deal with many pitfalls and successes along the way. We have champions but they are hard to keep as their workload can take over so easily, we try and ensure that everyone is aware of what is expected, required and by when through newsletters, email and meetings but they tend to only start to do something once we point out the consequences of not complying instead of building the requirements into their ongoing teaching/workload.
    So thank you for your comments/tips I will bring them to everyone’s attention.

    1. Thank you, Tricia, for all you do at your institution.

      You may also want to consider using more of the carrot than the stick, so to speak. Emphasizing the visibility and benefit of assessment information for more informed decision-making, for promoting programs and services, and for partnering with various organizations will likely help to be a positive motivator for them to keep the assessment momentum going and for enlisting the help of other staff and faculty in the process.

      I hope the tips will be helpful for you and your associates.



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