Overview and Frequently Asked Questions Regarding AACSB Expectations
The Assurance of Learning Standards (Standards 15–21) clearly acknowledge assessment of student learning as part of the curriculum management process. The standards call for schools to define learning goals, assess student achievement for these goals, and utilize what is learned through assessment to continually improve their curricular programs. AACSB expectations regarding Assurance of Learning Standards include:
- Learning goals should link to the mission; thus, learning goals will differ from school to school. Learning goals translate the more general statement of the school’s mission into the specific educational accomplishments expected of its graduates.
- Learning goals must be defined for each program. Departmental goals and/or course goals (which are not required by AACSB) are not a substitute for program goals.
- Learning goals must include both general and management-specific knowledge and skills.
- Four to ten goals should be developed for each program. Schools are not required (or even encouraged) to develop and assess learning goals for all of the knowledge and skills areas listed in Standards 15–21.
- Student performance on learning goals must be assessed systematically and routinely. No one approach to assurance of learning is prescribed. Assessment programs should include direct measures of learning. Course grades are not program assessment measures.
- Program assessment does not require that every student be assessed. Sampling is acceptable as long as an appropriate and representative sampling methodology is utilized.
- Assessment results must be analyzed, disseminated, and utilized by the faculty toward curriculum planning.
- For initial accreditation and accreditation maintenance purposes, schools will be expected to define their learning goals conceptually and operationally, discuss how they are addressed in the curriculum, and demonstrate levels of student achievement for each goal. Schools also will be expected to show how assessment results subsequently impacted their curriculum planning.
- Faculty involvement in, and ownership of, the assurance of learning process is critical. Faculty are expected to be actively involved in all stages of the assessment process including defining goals, curriculum alignment, developing appropriate measures, implementing course-embedded measures, and, improving the school’s curriculum.
Assurance of learning is a dynamic process. Schools that have made good progress indicate a continuous stream of refinement and enhancement of both curricular programs and assessment processes.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Regarding Assurance of Learning/Assessment
What are the main differences between the “old” and “new” standards related to assessment?
The current standards require that learning goals are articulated for each degree program and that the assessment of student learning related to those goals includes direct measures of student learning. In the past, many schools relied primarily on indirect measures, including internal and external surveys, to assess student learning. This is no longer sufficient.
Why can’t course grades be used to indicate student learning?
Course grades measure the students’ mastery of a course topic taught by a specific professor. The course grade is an aggregate measure comprised of the students’ performances on multiple exams, assignments, projects, homework, extra credit, etc. Even if professors teach from a common syllabus, a course grade is too aggregate a measure to provide an assessment of specific skills or knowledge. For example, a course may include an oral presentation assignment that is worth 20% of the course grade. It is possible for one student to get an exceptional grade on that assignment, and another student to fail that assignment, with both students receiving a “C” for the final course grade. The course grade provides no measure of students’ demonstrated oral presentation skills or of the capacity of the curriculum to produce the desired oral communication traits in its students.
On the other hand, the grades on the oral assignment are an indicator of students’ oral skills. If the faculty agrees on how the assignment is to be evaluated (including articulating its minimum performance standards), an oral presentation assigned within a course may be an appropriate program assessment measure. Thus, course products (cases, papers, presentations, exercises) may be used to meet assurance of learning standards, but course grades, by themselves, cannot.
Do surveys have a place in assessment programs?
Surveys (which are an indirect assessment method) may be an appropriate method to gather data on certain learning goals (e.g., life-long learning). For the most part, however, the role of survey data will be to corroborate data gathered through more direct measures or to yield studentsí perceptions of how a curriculum is functioning. To meet AACSB expectations regarding assurance of student learning, the bulk of a schoolís learning assessment plan should rely on direct measures of student learning. Beyond accreditation, surveys and other indirect measures may assist school management.
Must all of the general skills and management-specific topics listed in Standard 15 be assessed?
Standard 15 articulates expectations regarding general and management-specific knowledge and skills that normally should be included in undergraduate and masters-level business curricula. Learning goals do not need to be developed and assessed for each topic or skill listed. An undergraduate program’s learning goals must encompass both management-specific and general knowledge and skills, however.
Learning goals must be established at the program level. What is a program?
The school must specify learning goals for each separate degree program. Generally, such goals are anticipated for each degree, not for separate majors or concentrations within a degree. For example, a school may offer a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) degree with defined majors in finance, marketing, human resource management, operations management, and general management. A set of learning goals for the BSBA degree must be provided and assessed; goals for each major (while they may be developed for the school’s use) would not be required for accreditation review purposes. However, if the school also offers degrees at the undergraduate level called Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems (BSMIS) and Bachelor of Arts in International Management (BAIM), each of those degrees would require a specification of its learning goals.
The only exception to this is if the school is seeking separate AACSB accreditation for accounting. Even if accounting is not offered as a separate degree program, the major must have its own assessment system for accounting-accreditation purposes.
Must individual majors (or departments) have their own learning goals?
No. For accreditation purposes, individual majors within a degree program do not need articulated learning goals. While the school may find this useful for other purposes, major-level learning goals are not required.
Can there be any overlap in a school’s degree programs’ learning goals?
Four to ten learning goals must be articulated for each degree program. In most schools, some goals will be similar (or even the same), across various degree programs, while other goals will be unique to specific programs. Thus, while some learning goals may be common to all programs, it is expected that there will be some differentiation among the various programs’ learning goals. This allows the school to establish its identity through common goals, while delivering programs to prepare students for different careers through differentiated goals.
Must all students be assessed?
No. For the purposes of meeting standards related to assurance of learning (16, 18 and 20), sampling may be utilized, as long as it is representative.
Can some assessment take place in courses outside of the business school (e.g., General Education courses?)
The standards do not specify when or where assessment activities take place. Learning goals articulate the competencies that business graduates students are expected by the faculty to achieve. AACSB would expect most assessment activities to address learning goals specified by business and management curricula.
What percentage of students must meet (or exceed) our performance standards?
One emphasis in the Assurance of Learning Standards is to gather data on student learning to be used for the purposes of improving business curricula. For each learning goal, the school’s faculty will determine their minimum expectation or standard. There is no prescribed percentage of students that must meet the standards articulated by the faculty. What the review team will be looking for, instead, is how these data are used. Thus, a poor showing on student mastery of a learning goal (e.g., analytical reasoning) would only be a concern if the curriculum was not subsequently modified to improve student skills in this area. A second purpose for the learning goals is to communicate the competencies of graduates to students and employers. Thus, the goals should represent learning goals achieved by nearly all graduates, not just a portion. The review team will also examine whether the schoolís performance standards are appropriate given the student body demographics and the school’s mission.
Must we require that all students meet the expected standards on all of our learning goals in order to graduate?
No. This need not be a requirement at an individual level, but the goal should represent the intention of the faculty for every graduate. (See above: What percentage of students must meet our performance standard?)
Can group work be used to assess student outcomes?
While every student does not need to be assessed for program assessment purposes (see: Must every student be assessed?), assessment data must be gathered at the individual level. Group products can be used for assessment only if they yield data on individual student performance. For example, a group presentation could be used to assess individual studentsí oral communication skills. On the other hand, a team-written paper would not yield individual-level assessments of written communication skills, therefore this would not be acceptable.
Must we use multiple measures to assess each goal?
The standards do not prescribe a specific number or type of measurement techniques, as long as some direct measures are used. While the most effective assessment programs do assess learning goals using multiple measures over time, the standards do not require this. It is expected, however, that schools will make an effort to continually improve their assessment programs, which may include adopting multiple and/or more sophisticated measures.
Can the professor be responsible for the assessment of a program learning objective within his or her class?
If the classroom-based assessment method is being used, products from a class will be used for program assessment purposes. (For example, students’ critical thinking abilities might be assessed through a written case assignment in a capstone strategy course). Classroom assignments or exercises can provide useful valid data for program assessment if they are rated or graded using criteria and standards established by the faculty (using a rubric, for example). While the professor of the course in which the assignment is made may rate it for both program and course purposes, this is not required. The professorís minimum obligation is to make the assignment part of the course requirements, collect it, and make it available for program assessment. Some schools using classroom-based assessment have the rating done by the course professor, others by an outside rater, and still others by a faculty committee. What is important is that the assignment is rated according to the criteria and standards agreed upon by the faculty, and that the rater(s) is/are qualified.
Must each learning goal be assessed separately?
Each learning goal will have its own performance standards (for example, in a rubric), but a common method can be used to gather data on more than one goal. For example, a written case analysis could be used to assess both students’ analytical thinking and writing skills. Another example could be a capstone project involving a presentation that could form the basis for evaluating oral skills and disciplinary competence. When using a common method for two or more learning goals, make sure to evaluate each goal separately (rubrics can help with this).
What documentation must we keep?
Keep copies of the instruments (for example, assignments plus scoring grid or rubric, surveys), summary data and analysis for each year, sample student products used for program assessment, minutes from meetings disseminating the assessment results and proposing curriculum action items, and progress on action items. Review teams will be looking for evidence that the assessment results were gathered systematically, and used to strengthen the curriculum and improve student learning.
What are the AACSB expectations regarding the timing of the implementation of program assessment system? Do these expectations differ for those schools going for initial accreditation and those going for maintenance?
The expectations regarding the implementation of the Assurance of Learning Standards are the same for all schools applying for accreditation or maintenance under the new standards.
The development of systematic, meaningful assurance of learning, with fully developed learning goals and assessments, is normally a multi-year project.
Is benchmarking required?
No, the standards do not require benchmarking to comply with Assurance of Learning Standards.
Must we assess students at multiple points in the curriculum?
While some schools may adopt a value-added approach to assessment, the standards do not require this.