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Program Evaluation and Assessment: Integrating Methods, Process, and Culture
Unformatted Document Text:  total). Of course if we cherry picked the data and only examined student satisfaction with the major, we would have concluded we were a great program. As a group, the political science faculty decided to review the national exam which at the time was the GRE field test in political science. We concluded that it was very challenging and covered the vast array of the discipline; but since students only had to get 60% correct to score at the 99 th percentile, we felt it was a reasonably good fit with the content of our curriculum. Our discussion following the review of the exam led to a decision to inquire of students and to analyze transcripts to try to understand course choice patterns within our distributional curriculum. When we went back to the classroom, we asked students to discuss concepts that we knew they had covered in more than one prior course. Their inability to do this even marginally well had the effect of persuading us that the weak exam results reflected the tendency for students to study for exams without really engaging or internalizing the concepts. Our transcript analysis showed that students were frequently taking very specialized courses that left huge holes in their understanding of the general concepts and models of the discipline. We concluded that there was nothing in our current curricular design that challenged the short-term learning practices of our students. While we became convinced that the national exam provided a reasonably good measure of the content knowledge of the discipline, we also concluded that the research and higher-order thinking objectives of the program were not adequately measured in the current assessment system. We resolved to restructure our curriculum and to develop a way for the faculty to collectively assess students’ higher order thinking skills. What emerged was a sequenced curriculum that required students to take introductory coursework, a foundations course in three subfields, a methodology course, and a newly created capstone course. With this curriculum, we 4

Authors: Young, Candace.
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total). Of course if we cherry picked the data and only examined student satisfaction with the
major, we would have concluded we were a great program.
As a group, the political science faculty decided to review the national exam which at the
time was the GRE field test in political science. We concluded that it was very challenging and
covered the vast array of the discipline; but since students only had to get 60% correct to score at
the 99
th
percentile, we felt it was a reasonably good fit with the content of our curriculum.
Our discussion following the review of the exam led to a decision to inquire of students and to
analyze transcripts to try to understand course choice patterns within our distributional
curriculum. When we went back to the classroom, we asked students to discuss concepts that we
knew they had covered in more than one prior course. Their inability to do this even marginally
well had the effect of persuading us that the weak exam results reflected the tendency for
students to study for exams without really engaging or internalizing the concepts. Our transcript
analysis showed that students were frequently taking very specialized courses that left huge holes
in their understanding of the general concepts and models of the discipline. We concluded that
there was nothing in our current curricular design that challenged the short-term learning
practices of our students.
While we became convinced that the national exam provided a reasonably good measure
of the content knowledge of the discipline, we also concluded that the research and higher-order
thinking objectives of the program were not adequately measured in the current assessment
system. We resolved to restructure our curriculum and to develop a way for the faculty to
collectively assess students’ higher order thinking skills. What emerged was a sequenced
curriculum that required students to take introductory coursework, a foundations course in three
subfields, a methodology course, and a newly created capstone course. With this curriculum, we
4


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