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College of Arts & Sciences

Political Science Department Assessment Plan

Mission Statement

Assessment Baseline

In the academic year 2014-15 catalog, the Political Science Department offers only a single course (POLS 2700, Introduction to Political Theory) required of all majors. Similarly, and largely because we recognized that undergraduate students’ interests increasingly fail to line up with with political science subfield boundaries, we eliminated traditional “tracks” several years ago in favor of a more open system that allows majors to follow self-designed concentrations. While we offer a series of 1000- and 2000-level “introductory” courses to provide students with disciplinary theory and analytic tools, our upper-division offerings are rarely sequential. This reflects both the need (and frankly, the desire) to make these courses available for non-majors and themes participants, but also the fact that it’s not logically necessary for a student to study American Foreign Policy (3000-level) prior to taking a course on Latin American Politics or Postcolonial theory (4000-level). To take advantage of this structure, we have designed our learning goals and objectives to be met and measured not in specific courses, but by our general (1000-, 2000-, 3000-, and 4000-) curricular levels of progression.

Designing a POLS Assessment Plan

Our current assessment plan is built upon a set of learning goals that combine discipline-specific outcomes with the broader demands of general education (in which we are a campus leader). Currently, we collect semester-by-semester data on our first goal, aimed at measuring students’ performance in learning to define, analyze, and compare disciplinary theories and concepts in our 2000-level course, which run the gamut between introductory courses (aimed at majors and non-majors alike) in international relations, political theory, and comparative politics, and second-year courses (aimed primarily at majors) in American politics and law:

1. Students will develop an understanding of core political science concepts and theories within multiple disciplinary subfields and be able to apply them to the analysis of the political world. Specifically, students in subfield introductory courses (2000 level) will be able to:
  • Define important field-specific theories and concepts, and understand their role in developing political science knowledge.
  • Summarize conceptual argument or theoretical approaches, apply them to field-relevant situations, and support their application with appropriate evidence.
  • Compare and evaluate the merits of multiple policies, theories, or concepts from different disciplinary perspectives.

Direct measures of student learning for these objectives include:

  • Short answer or multiple choice questions in which students define and describe concepts and theories.
  • Exam questions and written assignments that require the application of concepts and theories to real-world cases and problems.
  • Exam questions and written assignments that call for the comparison and evaluation of policies, theories, or concepts’ merits using general analytic tools developed in subfield courses.

As part of the implementation process, we have added language associated with these objectives to all 2000-level syllabi, and we have deployed rubrics to measure achievement within assignments in each course. The results inform discussions among our departmental assessment committee and our teaching faculty, and the results serve as the basis for developing new assignments and exam models to better capture student learning. Over the next several years, we are extending this model as follows:

Academic Year 2015-16

  • Deployment of Learning Goal #2 (“Students will develop effective written communication skills, characterized by the ability to write in the styles and forms that will prepare them for graduate-level research in political science and/or the professional world.”), aimed at 4000-level courses across the major that include substantial writing assignments. We are developing specific objectives, measures, and rubrics, and initiate a year-end “loop-closing” exercise for this goal, as well.

Academic Year 2016-17

  • We will finalize three to four more learning goals and their related outcomes (particularly aimed at 1000- and 3000-level courses) and ensure that they are integrated into syllabi.
  • We will design the necessary tools (rubrics and others), and devote time to faculty teaching development with respect to integrating the measurement of these objectives into existing and new assignments and exam formats.

Academic Year 2017-18 and Beyond

  • We will continue to expand “loop-closing” exercises and opportunities to further integrate the use of assessment data into course and assignment design.
  • We will review the broader curriculum as necessary to ensure alignment with top-level learning goals.

Political Science Department Assessment Rubric

Learning Goal #1: Students will develop an understanding of core political science concepts and theories within multiple disciplinary subfields, and be able to apply them to the analysis of the political world.

Objective #1 (Direct Measure): 2000 Level students will be able to define important field-specific theories and concepts.

3 (Exceeds Expectations)
  • Demonstrates an understanding of the theory or concept’s main principles and fields of application.
  • Contains relevant keywords.
  • Presents specific examples for illustration or grounds concept/theory in context (as required by specific assignment) or
  • Response(s) evidence no misconceptions or errors that impact the concept/theory’s meaning or field of application.
2 (Meets Expectations)
  • Demonstrates competent but incomplete understanding of theory/concept’s main principles and fields of application; leaves off or fails to include some central component.
  • Contains some but not all relevant keywords or central terms, meaning is clear but incomplete.
  • Response presents partial context or incomplete/underdeveloped example for illustration; it’s clear student understands basic idea, but struggles to articulate it in course-specific terms.
1 (Needs Improvement)
  • Response(s) are markedly off-base; conflates theory/concept at hand for entirely different idea.
  • Important keywords are absent.
  • Fails to present examples or provide relevant context.

Objective #2 (Direct Measure): 2000 Level students will be able to summarize a conceptual argument or theoretical approach, apply it to an actual field-relevant situation, and support their application with appropriate evidence

3 (Exceeds Expectations)

Student’s response/paper/exam question accomplishes all of the below…

  • Summary is complete; contains all relevant keywords, course- and discipline-specific content, and provides clear description of conceptual argument/theoretical approach’s definition and relevance.
  • Response/answer provides examples and context in the depth necessary to demonstrate mastery of both theory/concept and its concrete implications.
  • Response assesses issues raised by potentially competing information or alternative perspectives introduced in course materials.
  • Response is presented logically, with attention to internal consistency and the need to develop unstated assumptions.
  • Use of evidence takes into account potential counter-arguments, strengths and weaknesses of sources.
2 (Meets Expectations)

Student’s response/paper/exam question accomplishes most of the below…

  • Summary is complete; contains all relevant keywords, course- and discipline-specific content, and provides clear description of conceptual argument/theoretical approach’s definition and relevance.
  • Response/answer provides examples and context in the depth necessary to demonstrate mastery of both theory/concept and its concrete implications.
  • Response assesses issues raised by potentially competing information or alternative perspectives introduced in course materials.
  • Response is presented logically, with attention to internal consistency and the need to develop unstated assumptions.
  • Use of evidence takes into account potential counter-arguments, strengths and weaknesses of sources.
1 (Needs Improvement)
  • Summary is incomplete, garbled, or missing key information; connection between theory/concept and field-relevant situation is unclear.
  • Response is substantially lacking in detail, examples, or evidence drawn from course materials.
  • Argument is disorganized, lacks attention to logical development.
  • Fails to address most obvious competing explanations/perspectives, or to engage with alternative evidence.

Objective #3 (Direct Measure): 2000-level students will be able to compare and evaluate the merits of two or more policies, theories, or concepts.

3 (Exceeds Expectations)
  • Policies/theories/concepts to be compared are clearly and critically described, delivering all necessary information for full analysis.
  • Response takes complexity into account; recognizes limitations of evidence and the possibilities of other/competing perspectives and analytic stances.
  • Clearly and cogently states grounds for comparison, identifies key similarities and differences that make comparison more/less compelling.
  • Response combines evidence with logic and reason, prioritizes arguments and evidence to strengthen argument.
  • Comparison is built on adequate detail, examples, and context, relies on synthesis from multiple sources of evidence (as required by assignment).
2 (Meets Expectations)
  • Policies/theories/concepts to be compared are clearly but uncritically described.
  • Response offers limited acknowledgement of complexities of issue(s) at hand, acknowledges but does not address or explore limitations of evidence or competing perspectives.
  • Comparison is developed but presented with limited acknowledgement of factors facilitating/hindering its success.
  • Conclusions are generally tied logically to evidence presented.
1 (Needs Improvement)
  • Policies/theories/concepts to be compared are stated incompletely and without adequate description.
  • Evidence is presented without regard to logical priorities or limitations of sources.
  • Competing perspectives or relevant counter-arguments are unacknowledged.
  • Assumptions are presented as fact.

 

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