Assessing General Education Programs
By Mary J. Allen. Bolton, MA: Anker, 2006
In the growing number of books on assessing educational outcomes, Assessing General Education Programs by Mary J. Allen is one of the better additions to the collection. The book is short, sweet and to the point. Allen has many years of experience in California in working with the broad array of institutions and students that comprise a major part of higher education in California.
Clearly, assessment is being driven by the national and state accountability demands, as well as by the regional and professional or specialized accrediting agencies. Allen frames her approach through the lens of institutional mission and the need for everything else to flow from the mission. In particular, her attention to the alignment of the curriculum, both within the general education program and between general education and the major, is an important focus. Indeed, the first part of her book focuses on general education programs and the work that needs to be done around defining and aligning the goals of general education before moving into discussing options for assessing student learning and programmatic outcomes.
When she does turn her attention to assessment, she includes discussion of direct and indirect measures and the need to have multiple ways to demonstrate student learning in relation to the goals of general education. She incorporates an approach in most chapters of presenting information on what her chapter focus is, then presents examples to illustrate implementation approaches, and then the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches so that the reader can better think about what might work on his or her own campus. It was refreshing to find explicit attention to the issues of the ethics of assessment, not simply a toolbox of methods.
The book will provide the novice and the more advanced person engaged in assessing general education with useful information. The person looking for an answer, or a prescription for what to assess and how, will be disappointed. Throughout the presentation, the reader is invited to think about general education and its role and purpose on campus, then about what is possible and desirable to do in determining the extent to which students are learning what is intended by through the general education curriculum.
If there is a weakness, it is a heavy reliance on her California experience. Examples are given of other campus approaches outside of California, but sometimes outstanding examples of both non-traditional approaches to general education and to assessing it are missing from the set of citations provided – a bit more diversity would have enhanced the examples. However, if those responsible for overseeing and assessing general education on their respective campuses read and follow the suggestions in Allen, they will likely find that they have constructed a strong assessment strategy resulting in valuable results that can be used to both enhance general education programs and strengthen student learning.
Terrel L. Rhodes,
Portland State University