Most assessment, accreditation, and IE directors didn’t set out to be in their roles. Typically the jobs were filled by organized faculty and staff with a true desire to understand and improve their institution. Happily this important field is growing, and is filled with people like YOU.
While yes, assessment and accreditation do “check some boxes,” it’s much more than that. They are both rooted in a desire to genuinely investigate, understand, reflect, and improve. They both encourage an application of the scientific process to something we hold most dear – how our institution serves its most valuable stakeholders: our students.
Big Picture Advice
Some of the most critical advice for managing successful assessment and accreditation is from a higher level perspective. Having some of these foundational pieces in place can ensure a smoother experience.
- Tie assessment to accreditation
- Strive for a continuous journey
- Be mindful of how you communicate and the value of the process
- Stay positive and embrace this as a way to learn
- Key Attitudes – Patience, resilience, flexibility
- Divorcing assessment and accreditation
- Promoting anything as “because we have to” activities
- Trying to do it all alone
- Negative or unclear communication
- Waiting until the last minute to gather data or begin writing
Probably the most important big picture tip – involve others! Don’t shoulder the institution’s assessment or accreditation all by yourself (trust us, it’s impossible!), even if you are a “one person shop.”
- The institution and students are important to everyone – not just IE professionals. Tap into campus pride at ALL levels.
- Find champions – there are colleagues that have experience and passion for this on your campus! They can help you collaborate with faculty and staff not only on gathering data and items for reports, but for designing a sustainable process.
- Access the amazing community of professionals out there! There are close to 4300 institutions with someone working on exactly what you are. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel; connect with colleagues and learn from their experiences.
7 Tips For telling your assessment story to accreditors
We have curated this list from our community and Knowledge Center Resources to provide actionable advice from people just like you.
1. Complete a Self-Assessment
- Begin at the beginning: Where your institution is at in the process? Is there a process for data collection and report writing already? What gaps are there? What is the culture toward assessment and accreditation?
- Closely examine the current process – take it apart and put it back together. What is needed to make it work well?
2. Invest in Yourself
- Set aside time and resources for your continuing education. It will save time and money (and nervous breakdowns) in the long run!
- Serve on a review team, or observe with a review team at other campuses.
3. Build Relationships Through Communication
- Teamwork: It will take a village! Keep relationships as paramount; while having project management skills is definitely a plus for this role, people skills might be even more important!
- Honesty: Be honest and genuine, hiding uncomfortable realities will eventually destroy trust.
- Positive: This work is important, interesting, and can be enjoyable! Talk about your work with confidence and demonstrate the value of it.
- Start at the very beginning: Educate people about the process and transparency, along with resources for how it will get done.
- Speak the same language: Establish common terminology for assessment and accreditation to ensure everyone is on the same page.
- Consistency: Establish regular meaningful meetings and communication – always have and follow an agenda for meetings and ensure all emails have value.
- Feedback: READ what you ask for and give comments – if we don’t receive feedback we will treat assignments as busywork and reports will be poorer quality. Meet with people individually when necessary, especially to assist them in completing this work.
- Have some fun!
- Network and provide opportunities for professional development for your faculty and staff teams.
- Feed people!
- Celebrate regularly, and publicly if possible! There are so many successes that merit sharing.
4. Provide Resources that focus on learning and improvement
- Use opportunities you already have to connect with faculty and staff (faculty orientation or meetings, your teaching and learning center, etc.)
- Offer training that works well for your audience(s)
- Incentivize with an outside trainer or expert, food, or recognition
- Consider Using Technology – software solutions can save a lot of time and resources for everyone, as well as support an ongoing process
5. Promote Meaningful Assessment
- Anything we are doing in assessment needs to be meaningful to the department or institution. If it isn’t… don’t do it.
- Encourage your colleagues to:
- Use a curriculum map and timeline, as these are a wonderful foundation and visual for assessment.
- Balance relevance with reality – for the process to be sustained and genuine it must be doable and create value. Items should be meaningful, measuresurable, and manageable.
- Reflect on findings and make plans (close the loop).
6. Be Prepared for Accreditation
- Starting early is decent advice, but even better – don’t ever stop!
- Make a plan: Prioritize but prepare to be flexible
- Set a detailed timeline, by years, semesters, months, and weeks. Begin with the next visit or report date and work backwards.
- Do an inventory so you can determine high priority areas.
- Identify resources for you and those you will be recruiting to help.
- Share the plan
- Start by introducing your colleagues to the big picture of accreditation – what it is, why we do it, why it’s good, what’s expected.
- Share the timeline and resources with your campus.
- Make an outline of your entire report
- Enlist help! Assign a name to each item for execution and collection.
Create a list of documents to use for your narrative.
- Do a standards audit: If the visiting team came to campus right now, would we meet the expectations and where do we need to improve? Make plans for how to address weak areas.
- Enlist help! Assign a name to each item for execution and collection.
- DunDunDun… The Report
- Write, revise, and edit narrative. Some schools take several years to do this step to ensure it is not rushed.
- Give the campus community a way to participate in further revising the draft.
- Check all documentation and any links.
7. What to watch out for (challenges and solutions)
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Institutional Effectiveness is a team sport! Be a positive but realistic coach, and ask for help when you need it.
- People not submitting items
- Break what you need down into very small tasks with cushioned due dates.
- Get more personal (some might call this gentle nagging).
- Worst case, at least get the data you need, then enlist others to help write or plug it in.
- Falling behind on timelines
- Create aggressive timelines to start so you have cushion for falling behind.
- Create carrots/sticks according to due dates.
- Worst case, adjust the dates as best you can to still meet your goals.
- Data/Evidence Problems
- Not Enough Data/Evidence: Be transparent about what is missing and why. Include a plan for correcting it and when it will be complete.
- Too Much Data/Evidence: More is just more! Rate each piece and only include compelling ones in the report.
- Data/Evidence is not favorable: That’s okay. It is paramount to be genuine in this process. Approach it as an opportunity: Why is this surprising? What does it mean? What are we going to do about it? Document that reflection and plan!
- Changes in leadership
- Involve the new leaders at your earliest opportunity.
- Share all the successes your campus has had so far.
- At a high level, detail what is left to complete and what you need to do it well.
While there isn’t a comprehensive day-by-day guide (and let’s be honest, you don’t have time to read something like that anyway!), we hope this article has given you some ideas to implement at your institution. Happily there are loads of heroes out there developing resources, and we are including our favorites here!