History of the Survey of Assessment Culture


During the past two decades there has been an increasing frequency and prominence with which the term “culture of assessment” has been used. In broader contexts, a “culture of…” has come to dominate many facets of society including K-12 education, health care, military, government, and business. However, for commanding as much attention in higher education scholarly discourse as it does, the notion of a culture of assessment has remained largely conjectural, understudied (Baas, Rhoads, & Thomas, 2016) and detached from the larger scholarly discourses of educational leadership and organizational development (Haviland, 2014). (Fuller, Skidmore, Bustamante, & Holzweiss, 2016; Kuh et al., 2014; Kuh & Ikenberry, 2009; Ndoye, 2008).

To fill this gap, Dr. Matthew Fuller began collecting data on the concept of a culture of assessment as early as 2005. Initial surveys were “one off” surveys with questions asked to sample of convenience, professional Listservs, and contacts within Dr. Fuller’s professional network. These questions changed annually as discussions and conference proceedings piqued Dr. Fuller’s interest. However, by 2007 a set of regularly used (but not expertly reviewed or validated) questions emerged. 

In 2011, Dr. Fuller accepted a tenure-track position at Sam Houston State University and the surveys began a period of tremendous development with contributions from Drs. Susan Skidmore, Rebecca Bustamante, and Peggy Holzweiss. Moreover, the instruments were reviewed numerous times by the newly formed advisory panel for the research, the Council of Scholars. Members offered advice and reviewed the instruments, data, and publications.

The overall purpose of the surveys has always been to provide institutions of higher education with useful, meaningful data on the factors that influence how they use data in a variety of common decision-making settings. The Surveys spur cross-organizational dialogue into how assessment is perceived and practiced and what factors influence assessment at an institution.

History of the Administration and Faculty Surveys of Assessment Culture

Starting in 2011, an intense year-long literature review was conducted by Dr. Fuller, Dr. Skidmore, Dr. Bustamante, and Dr. Holzweiss with the purpose of refining the instruments. Through the review, three types of culture were expressly mentioned in literature pertaining to assessment:

(a) culture of assessment (focused on student learning improvement),

(b) culture of fear, and

(c) culture of compliance. 

Cultures of inquiry and evidence were not widely recognized in 2011 scholarship on higher education assessment.  Moreover, six themes were found in the literature on cultures of assessment in 2011:

(a) Leadership, which the team considered to be a higher order factor cutting across all other constructs,

(b) Faculty Perceptions,

(c) Use of Data,

(d) Sharing,

(e) Compliance or Fear Motivators, and

(f) Normative Purposes for Assessment.

In 2012, nineteen noted assessment scholars were invited to review both the Administrators and Faculty Surveys. Improvements, such as rewording and addition or deletion of questions, were made following their advice. Moreover, experts were critical in determining what kinds of information could be shared with institutions. In 2012, the first Information Sharing Agreement and contact file templates were reviewed and approved by SHSU’s Office of General Counsel. 

A small, single institution pilot study of the Administrators Survey of Assessment Culture was conducted in late 2012-early 2013. The primary purpose of this small pilot was to ensure the survey system was working efficiently. The first nation-wide pilot of the Administrators Survey of Assessment Culture was conducted in early 2013. Nineteen institutions participated in the pilot and institutional research and assessment directors were asked to provide feedback on the survey at two points: a) after they completed the survey, and b) after they received data. In conjunction with the pilot of the Administrators Survey of Assessment Culture, the Faculty Survey of Assessment Culture was also piloted in the same fashion and with the same participating institutions. 

Validation and Reliability Confirmation Efforts

The 2012-2013 pilot studies allowed for Exploratory and Confirmatory Factor Analysis studies to serve as validation efforts. In general, the factors expected were measured by the instruments though the connection to teaching and learning was not indicated as a higher order factor. Leadership was indeed a higher order factor. Reliability coefficients for each construct measured have been strong and never below Nunnaly’s (1978) accepted threshold of α ≥ 0.7. These validation efforts for the Administrators and Faculty Surveys allowed for improvements to be made, specifically in the ordering of questions and reduction of instrument length (though more consideration of this issue is needed). 

A second round of factor analysis in 2014 allowed for additional consideration of items that have consistently been retained in constructs as items of importance. These analyses would allow the instruments to be considerably reduced in length, though this reduction has not yet occurred as faculty also pondered the addition of a few new questions related to teaching and learning.

In 2015, data from the Surveys began contributing to publications on the culture of assessment in higher education. Since their inception, over 1,100 institutions of higher education and nearly 6,000 individuals have participated in the Administrators and Faculty Surveys of Assessment Culture.

Student Affairs Survey of Assessment Culture

In 2013, a group of student affairs practitioners approached Dr. Fuller about the use of the Surveys of Assessment Culture in student affairs contexts. Members of the Council of Scholars agreed that the existing Administrators and Faculty Surveys sufficiently represented constructs noted in student affairs assessment as well, but that slight language modifications would be needed to fit unique contexts of student affairs. The team reasoned that measuring similar constructs in student affairs would allow for useful comparisons across organizational units and would allow for discussions about how students affairs relates to the broader institutional context. Therefore, the team augmenting existing instruments to support the development of an instrument for use in student affairs.

In the summer 2014, a pilot of 9 institutions was conducted. Mid-manager or higher-level student affairs practitioners were invited to participate in the study. Data from this pilot study were used to in a confirmatory factor analysis project wherein the factors structure of the instrument was adequately confirmed. However, given the small sample size, additional confirmation is needed. Results from this study have been accepted for publication are posted on our research page. During the spring 2016 semester, the first nation-wide administration of the Student Affairs Survey was conducted.  Over 150 institutions worldwide have participated in the survey as of March 2021.

Recent Developments

The surveys have enjoyed strong responses. Publication and presentation of results have been positively received. In 2015, researchers from five countries outside of the U.S. (Australia/New Guinea, Japan, China, Qatar, and the U.K.) asked if the instrument could be adapted to their country’s needs. Nine institutions (three in the HLC, one in WASC, and five in SACS) have used the surveys in accreditation efforts. One institution has used the Faculty Survey of Assessment Culture to secure $1.6 million in funding from the Institute of Education Sciences. Future developments are updated regularly on www.shsu.edu/assessmentculture

Works Cited

Baas, L., Rhoads, J. C., & Thomas, D. (2016). Are quests for a “culture of assessment” mired in a “culture war” over assessment? A Q-methodological inquiry. Sage Open, 1-17. doi:10.1177/2158244015623591

Fuller, M., Skidmore, S., Bustamante, R., & Holzweiss, P. (2016). Empirically exploring higher education cultures of assessment. The Review of Higher Education, 39(3), 395-429. doi:10.1353/rhe.2016.0022

Harvey, L., & Knight, P. (1996). Transforming higher education. Ballmoor, UK: Open University Press.

Haviland, D. (2014). Beyond compliance: How organizational theory can help leaders unleash the potential of assessment. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 38(9), 755-765. doi:0.1080/10668926.2012.711144

Hutchings, P. (1990, June). Assessment and the way we work. Assessment Forum, pp. 12-14.

Kuh, G. D., Jankowski, N., Ikenberry, S. O., & Kinzie, J. (2014). Knowing what students know and can do: The current state of student learning outcomes assessment in US colleges and universities. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

Kuh, G., & Ikenberry, S. (2009). More than you think, less than we need: Learning outcomes assessment in American higher education. Urbana-Champagne: National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

Ndoye, A. (2008, February 26). Culture of assessment survey results. Wilmington, North Corlina: University of North Carolina Wilmington Press.

Nunnally, J. C. (1978). Psychometric theory (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Tierney, W. G., & Rhoads, R. A. (1995). The culture of assessment. In J. Smyth, Academic work: The challenging labour process in higher education (pp. 99-111). Buckingham: Open University Press.