A few weeks ago, there was a thread on a couple of listservs about the use of the word “assessment,” which for some people has a negative connotation. Obviously, I like the word assessment, but I understand how some people may be scared or turned off by it.
Listserv members offered up a variety of alternatives that might be more palatable for the folks on their campuses:
• Problem Solving
• Quality Assurance
As you can see, there were a number of suggestions to replace the word. All of those are good words, and they have different connotations, depending on how precise you want to be about the definitions. You can see that “accountability” is not on that list—I think that is another word that creates negative associations with a potentially frustrating experience.
At the same time, there a number of people who said that we should continue to use the word assessment and change the attitude toward it (reclaim the word). Several people gave examples of how their colleagues had one bad experience, so they generalize that to all future endeavors. It becomes hard to change someone’s mind when they have negative associations with a word or were somehow punished, felt like they wasted time, just did busy work, etc. This line of thinking focused on the activities of assessment, rather than the language.
Here’s my thought: I don’t really care what you call it. My vision is that you are doing something to know that you have improved the lives and experiences of college students. You cannot continue to implement your program/service/experience/course the same way you did a decade ago and think that the students are getting the same benefit from it. That something should have some structure and system to it, but it doesn’t need to be your dissertation. It can be quantitative or qualitative. It can be a sample (of people, timeframes, services), rather than all things all the time. It can be fun. (Really, it can be fun.)
It’s about how you know what you know, so that you can continue to do better and do the best for the students you serve. It’s about documenting (even in a creative way) to tell others about what you are doing and what you know. It’s about thoughtfully taking action based on something other than your gut feeling.
So, is assessment a bad word? I’d love to hear your perspective.