2016 Degree-Level Assessment Award Winner


No Thesis? No Problem. Creative Way of Assessing Masters Programs


For several years, the MA Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program has struggled to find the right kind of method to assess their graduate students. The SLP program prepares students to be clinicians ready to enter the field. Because the program focuses more on the clinical side of the profession, the vast majority of students do not do a thesis project, says Dr. Holly Storkel, the Speech-Language-Hearing Department Chair at KU. Several formats of assessment had been tried (e.g., 2-hour oral exam or a written reflection), but what worked was a 45-minute structured oral exam.


Throughout the course of students’ time in the program, they create a portfolio of artifacts that take the form of course assignments, projects, exams, papers, presentations, journals, and rubrics, says Dr. Strokel. “Artifacts selected by the student are described and reflected upon each semester as they are entered into the student’s portfolio.” For the oral exam, students pick 3 artifacts from their portfolio, present them to a committee of faculty members, and answer questions. The oral defense process occurs within 45 minutes. Students have 10 minutes to discuss each artifact (2 minutes to present and 8 minutes of question/answer). The committee evaluates the students on several dimensions that correspond to the objectives of the program. In addition, the committee spends up to 15 minutes in deliberation, discussing how the student performed.


Students and faculty like this new method of assessment, and it seems to work. The data support this assessment (pun intended). All students demonstrated acceptable to outstanding marks on each of the dimensions of the rubric (one student did not, but was successful on a subsequent attempt). Data from a student survey suggests an overall satisfaction with the new 45-minute structured oral exam as well as the program, reporting that they feel very well prepared for a career in Speech-Language Pathology.


Why did this new method work? Dr. Storkel described that the new oral exam is flexible and permits for “more breadth and depth by allowing students to pull different products from their portfolio to use as part of the exam, so we can get a fuller picture of what students have done in the program.” Moreover, there is transparency with the students, who see the rubric in advance so students know exactly what the criteria for evaluation are. Students are also able to observe exams to know what to expect. The exam is structured such that every exam evaluates the same set of skills and is graded with the same criteria. In addition, it seems to be very time efficient, with the exam having clear time limits that are strictly followed.


The SLP program is happy with the new method of assessing their masters-level graduate students; a creative and successful department level assessment approach well worth the degree-level assessment award.


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