Accreditation and Faculty Evaluations?

Accreditation and Student Learning Outcomes Committee
Accreditation and Student Learning Outcomes Committee

Recently the Accreditation and Student Learning Outcomes Committee has received several questions from colleges that have been given accreditation recommendations based upon Standard 3A1.c which states

Faculty and others directly responsible for student progress toward achieving stated student learning outcomes have, as a component of their evaluation, effectiveness in producing those learning outcomes.

Concern about these recommendations was also a topic of discussion at the Fall 2007 Plenary Session. A thorough examination of the issues related to this topic should involve: 1) theoretical implications of placing outcomes data as a component of job evaluation criteria, 2) the extent of influence the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) does or does not have over this contractual issue, and 3) relationships between the union and senate with regards to determining evaluation processes.

Starting with the theoretical implications, many faculty have found that Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) and assessment are an effective strategy for designing and aligning classes and programs. Assessment of SLOs provides significant tools to examine student learning and to improve both what students come out with (student learning outcomes) and what pedagogical techniques contribute to that learning.

However, when linking the production of SLOs to evaluation, the situation for faculty becomes more complex. Many faculty interpret the phrase "producing SLOs" to mean data about student learning outcomes will be recorded in the faculty member's evaluation report thereby becoming a part of the personnel file. They fear they will be evaluated on how well their students are doing, following the examples and horror stories circulating through the K-12 system about the No Child Left Behind Act. In fact, the ACCJC's Accreditation Standards do not specify that "producing SLOs" means examining data. This is a matter of interpretation at different schools.

Placing student learning outcomes data within a faculty member's evaluation would create a downward pressure on the rigor of the outcomes and a strong motivation to create assessments that validate or justify the content, pedagogy, and assignments. On the other hand, placing the data elsewhere creates an outcome that challenges the faculty member to fully examine the students, classroom and pedagogy and then improve. The question to be asked is, "What outcome do you want from the process of assessing student learning?" If the final outcome is to set a standard that states that improving teaching and learning is a professional responsibility for everyone involved in the process, the standard must look at what is being done with the data; not the data itself. Creating safe data collection and analysis contributes to robust dialogue but more importantly, it contributes to sustainable and meaningful assessments.

In addition, the actual data from student assessment is inevitably the result of many outside and uncontrollable variables. Faculty members may discover in their assessments that the prerequisite courses are inadequate, or that the class schedule inhibits student performance, or that resources are inadequate, or that technology is needed. The goal of student learning outcomes and assessment is to analyze a situation, diagnose the need, and improve learning-not to judge the faculty member. The crux of the problem with including student learning outcomes data in evaluations is that many times the data is outside of the control or influence of the faculty member. Response to that data is entirely different. The professional responsibility of faculty is to examine and then apply to their own work in order to improve it.

An example of this would be the fact that we now know that about 70-80% of our students assess below college level in one or more of the pre-collegiate benchmarks in reading, writing, or mathematics. We cannot be responsible, as individual faculty, for such pervasive performance. This is something we did not contribute to and cannot fix as individuals. However, knowing the basic skills assessment data and lack of collegiate readiness, it would be unprofessional to continue teaching without some consideration of how that factor affects our course outcomes and ability to teach as we always have. The Basic Skills Initiative (BSI) is teaching us that we cannot teach our classes as we always have. We must re-examine our practices in order to improve our students' study skills and basic skills in addition to addressing our discipline material.

So, have colleges addressed Standard 3A1? Many colleges have chosen to include faculty reflection on assessment data as a narrative in the goals and accomplishments section of the evaluation. This narrative could include a discussion of what faculty found out through their assessments and how they intend to change their teaching strategies, content or assignments. The narrative should also include how the assessments validated their teaching strategies and content. This short summary would naturally be linked to the future goals and accomplishments self-reported by the faculty member. Links to examples from Cabrillo College and from the Bakersfield College Faculty Evaluation Overview are provided at the end of this article.

To examine the second issue, ACCJC's sphere of influence over a contractual issue, requires that we look at the role of ACCJC and compare this standard with many other components of the standards that also overlap with contractual or legal concerns. There are many issues within the standards which are an attempt to address best practices. These issues do not and should not prescribe our responses, but instead require us to show that somewhere and somehow we have reflected on these issues. The way that your campus addresses any of these practices in the standards is specifically your individual right and responsibility. The peer review method looks at how you claim to meet the responsibility and whether you are indeed doing that, but does not dictate your particular response. Many aspects of the standards relate to parts of Title 5 or processes that we have institutionalized through contracts. Look at Standard 2B3.a., which reflects Title 5 and best practices regarding student access. Consider Standard 3A1.a. This requires specific best practices for selection of faculty, including that faculty have a significant role. The Accreditation Standards represent effective practices found in literature and yet look to the self study for individualized and appropriate applications.

Finally, the complicated and time-sensitive response to the accreditation recommendations, should your campus already have one on this standard, adds a particular burden to union and senate discussions relating to faculty evaluation. While the faculty evaluation process falls into the domain of union responsibilities, the union is required by the California Education Code to consult with the academic senate in constructing the process, as required in 87610.1(a).

In those districts where tenure evaluation procedures are collectively bargained pursuant to Section 3543 of the Government Code, the faculty's exclusive representative shall consult with the academic senate prior to engaging in collective bargaining on these procedures.

This discussion is an important one that should be a model (to administration) displaying the productive way faculty collegially consult with one another.

If your college has received an accreditation recommendation about faculty evaluation, we have listed below two examples of how the narrative has incorporated Standard 3A1.c into faculty evaluation processes that have passed accreditation visits. If you still have accreditation on your horizon, consider tackling this issue now in a proactive way.

Cabrillo College Faculty Evaluation processes incorporate this practice in the Faculty Self-Evaluation questions as seen below and found at

Bakersfield Evaluation Process can be found at