College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University Education Department
Unit Assessment System
The unit has an assessment system that collects and analyzes data on applicant qualifications, candidate and graduate performance, and unit operations to evaluate and improve the unit and its programs. Standard 2: Assessment System and Unit Evaluation
Element 1: The Unit's Assessment System.
Overview. Although one component of the units' assessment of candidates was first used in 1996, the design of the unit's present assessment system began with conversations and consultation during an August 1999 conference in Philadelphia sponsored by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Members of the unit attending that conference choose to use the "NCATE 2000" performance-based accreditation standards as they prepared for an accreditation visit in April of 2001. These piloted performance-based standards would later appear as one of NCATE's Professional Standards for the Accreditation of Schools, Colleges, and Departments of Education and have continued to guide the design and use of unit assessment systems (2008).
That conference encouraged initial sketches of the emerging system's primary elements during informal conversations through the fall of 1999. As those sketches took more definite form they were informally critiqued by the unit's faculty and by experienced elementary and secondary teachers. Work on one of those elements, a standards-based "performance profile" for candidates completing student teaching, began in the summer of 2000. Preparation for a successful review of the unit's licensure programs during the 2000-2001 academic year by Minnesota's Board of Teaching offered further experience in the design of an assessment system driven by the need to assure all candidates of opportunities to know, apply, and to be assessed on their performance on licensure standards.
In October of 2000, the unit approved a set of assessment questions that would guide the collection and analysis of information about candidates' classroom performance. The following month colleagues confirmed the significant features of a system that could respond to those questions. The system's design was completed in late December. That design was described in a comprehensive plan shared with the unit's members in January of 2001 and approved by the Teacher Education Council in April of 2001 (Unit Assessment System, 2001) .
The unit's Assessment Committee contributed to the emerging system and monitored its use as the elements of the plan evolved into a functional mechanism for gathering, analyzing, and reporting candidate information. In the years since the unit first approved the system some methods of gathering information have been deleted, many altered, and some new techniques have been to respond to curricular changes, regulatory initiatives, or the unit's need for useful information. The core of the system, however, functions as planned. Challenges in storing and retrieving information reflect both the volume of accumulated data and pending changes in the reporting of information about candidates and licensure programs that will be required by state and perhaps federal agencies. Access to candidate performance information has, nonetheless, supported changes in the unit's policies, procedures, and curriculum.
Assessment Questions. The unit's assessment system reflects the joint mission of The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University as residential colleges pursuing the liberal arts within the Catholic university tradition. These two rural Minnesota institutions work together to offer their students "a unified liberal arts curriculum which focuses on questions important for the human condition, demands clear thinking and communicating, and calls forth new knowledge for the betterment of humankind." Through this shared curriculum these two colleges strive as one to offer their students "an integrative environment for learning which stresses intellectual challenge, open inquiry, collaborative scholarship, and artistic creativity." They recall their monastic founders by celebrating learning within Benedictine settings that "foster attentive listening to the voice of God, awareness of the meaning of one's existence, and the formation of community built on respect for individual persons" (Academic Catalog 2011-2012; Coordinate Mission).
The Department of Education jointly sponsored by these two liberal arts colleges has as its strategic aim the preparation of exemplary teachers who have a strong liberal arts background, exemplify Benedictine values, and make professional decisions which can help all students achieve their full potential as persons and as responsible world citizens in a democratic society (Education Department Mission and Learning Goals, 2011).
Focused by this aim, and consistent with the efforts of the two colleges, the Education Department's mission is to offer those prospective teachers "a rich and diverse background of coursework and experiences that stress intellectual challenge, open inquiry, collaborative scholarship, and that promote clear thinking." This unit's mission encourages the preparation of "teachers who make their informed and ethical classroom decisions based on a firm knowledge of content, pedagogy, and the needs of their students" (Mission and Learning Goals, 2011)
Students enrolled by the colleges and prepared for licensure as teachers by Minnesota's Board of Teaching reflect this mission and aim as they work toward the Education Department's program goals. The knowledge, skills, and values that are acquired and affirmed through candidates' pursuit of these goals strengthen the decisions they make as they plan, implement, and evaluate their practice. The department's goals are guided by the Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice for Teachers, a family of pedagogical standards set by Minnesota's Board of Teaching (MSEPT, 1999). The 10 terminal and 126 enabling standards that form this collection were derived from guidelines developed by the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC).
This sense of institutional and unit mission, the later nested within the former, guides the design of the assessment system through the specification of assessment questions. Taken together, these questions reflect the unit's curriculum within the context of its aim, mission, and goals. Such questions guide review of candidates' performance in a program of study and practice that prepares them for their roles as professional educators.
Standards-Based Assessment. The unit's assessment system is designed to respond to these questions from the perspective of unit, state, and professional standards. The unit's expectations are revealed in its conceptual framework and goals. The State of Minnesota's program approval and candidate licensure standards together define another performance context for all of teacher preparation programs and the candidates they present for licensure. The professional standards that guide NCATE's review of a unit offer a third context to help shape responses to the unit's assessment questions. These nested standards in turn suggest candidate proficiencies to be examined and described.