n a conversation last week with a big muckety-muck, I realized that there are two fundamentally different, and largely opposed, understandings of outcomes assessment in play. Which definition you accept will color your expectations.
The first is what I used to consider the basic definition: internal measures of outcomes, used to generate improvement over time. If you understand assessment in this way, then several things follow. You might not want all of it to be public, since the candid warts-and-all conversations that underlie real improvement simply wouldn’t happen on the public record. You’d pay special attention to shortcomings, since that’s where improvement is most needed. You’d want some depth of understanding, often favoring thicker explanations over thinner ones, since an overly reductive measure would defeat the purpose.
The second understanding is of assessment as a form of marketing. See how great we are! You should come here! The “you” in that last sentence could be prospective students being lured to a particular college, or it could be companies being lured to a particular state. If you understand assessment in this way, then several things follow. You’d want it to be as public as possible, since advertising works best when people see it. You’d pay special attention to strengths, rather than shortcomings. You’d downplay ‘improvement,’ since it implies an existing lack. And you’d want simplicity. When in doubt, go with the thinner explanation rather than the thicker one; you can’t do a thick description in a thirty-second elevator pitch.