SWTIG Week: Kathy Bolland on Assessment for Program Improvement and Accreditation

Hello! I am Kathy Bolland, and I serve as the assessment coordinator in a school of social work. My educational and experiential background in research and evaluation helped to prepare me for this responsibility. I am a past AEA treasurer, past chair of the Teaching of Evaluation Topical Interest Group (TIG), and current co-chair of the Social Work Topical Interest Group. I also manage our AEA electronic discussion venue, EVALTALK.

Lesson Learned: Although many professional schools have been assessing student learning outcomes for several years, as part of their disciplinary accreditation requirements, many divisions in the arts and sciences have not. Although not all faculty and administrators in professional schools approve of formal attempts to assess student learning outcomes as a means of informing program-level improvements, at least they are used to the idea. Their experiences can help their colleagues in other disciplines see that such assessment need not be so threatening—especially if they jump in and take a leading role.

Lesson Learned: Evaluators, even evaluators with primary roles in higher education, may not immediately notice that assessment of student learning outcomes bears many similarities to evaluation. People focused on assessment of learning outcomes, however, may be narrowly focused on whether stated student learning outcomes were achieved, not realizing that it is also important to examine the provenance of those outcomes, the implicit and explicit values embodied in those outcomes, and the consequences of assessing the outcomes. When evaluators become involved in assessing student learning outcomes, they can help to broaden the program improvement efforts to focus on stakeholder involvement in identifying appropriate student learning outcomes, on social and educational values, and on both intended and unintended consequences of higher learning and its assessment.

Hot Tip: Faculty from professional schools, such as social work, may have experiences in assessing student learning outcomes that can be helpful in regional accreditation efforts.

Hot Tip: Assessment councils and committees focused on disciplinary or regional accreditation may welcome evaluators into their fold! Evaluators may find that their measurement skills are appreciated before their broader perspectives. Take it slow!

Rad Resources: Ideas and methods discussed in American Journal of Evaluation; New Directions in Evaluation; Evaluation and Program Planning and other evaluation-focused journals have much to offer to individuals focused on assessing student learning outcomes to inform program improvement (and accreditation).


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating SW TIG Week with our colleagues in the Social Work Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our SW TIG members. 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.

2 thoughts on “SWTIG Week: Kathy Bolland on Assessment for Program Improvement and Accreditation”

  1. I think many institutions miss the mark when attempting to evaluate student outcomes simply because there is no real avenue for this type of data collection. Programs to get graduating students involved in classroom and academic progression could be of help, because after all they are the shoulders Universities hoist themselves on. The importance of continued academic participation should become a reality and maybe somewhat of a faculty focus, the information is there, it just needs to be extracted and maintained properly.

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