Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Higher Education PhD

First Advisor

Gerardo L. Blanco Ramírez

Second Advisor

Jay R. Dee

Third Advisor

Peggy Maki


Accountability pressures are substantial and growing in higher education. Regional accreditors have assimilated the language and purpose of assessment as part of the reviewing cycle for re-accreditation with the intention of making institutions more responsive in demonstrating improvement of student learning outcomes. Despite this, educational leaders across the nation describe the results of assessment efforts at their institutions to be of secondary importance to the need to comply with the requirement that assessment take place. Furthermore, leaders remark that faculty participation in assessment efforts falls below expectations. Nationally, assessment efforts do not seem to contribute to the improvement of student learning outcomes. There does not appear to be a closing of the assessment loop, which is necessary to improve student learning outcomes. Although this has been described as a dichotomy between assessment for accountability and assessment for improving student learning outcomes, the phenomenon has largely gone unexamined in research. This study follows a case study approach to explore how three institutions of higher education used assessment to improve student learning outcomes.

The three institutions were selected because they were identified as participants of the tuning and Degree Qualification Profile projects. These efforts make intensive use of assessment to improve student learning outcomes. After analyzing documents and conducting fourteen interviews with faculty and administrators from the three universities, this project presents findings organized around three major themes: (a) the extent to which assessment practice at the three institutions reflected the imperative of accountability versus the need to improve student learning outcomes; (b) the role faculty played in the implementation of assessment processes at the three institutions; and (c) the impact of tuning and the Degree Qualification Profile on assessment efforts at the three institutions.

This study found multiple interpretations of assessment for student learning, suggesting that double-loop learning and second-order change was possible under certain conditions. Based on the empirical findings, different interpretations of how assessment results were used at the three institutions are discussed along with the implications of the study for practice and further research.


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