In their 2013 article,  “Assessment culture: From ideal to real – A process of tinkering,” California State University Monterey Bay [CSUMB] professors Pat Tinsley, Marylou Shockley, Patricia Whang, Paoze Thao, Becky Rosenberg and Brian Simmons introduce a set of curricular assessment guidelines recently adopted by departments across CSUMB. According to Tinsley et al., implementation of these guidelines will promote “meaningful, sustained, and systematic assessment of student learning,” thus fostering a “culture of assessment.”  Their goals for operating within a culture of assessment include “increased curricular coherence” (i.e., across departments and between undergraduate and graduate curricula), helping students to identify milestones in the learning process and assess their own learning, and improvement of the curriculum to facilitate improved learning outcomes through ongoing assessment.

However, the interest in growing a culture of assessment has not been unanimous, and has even been controversial in the world of higher education. In their 2013 “Promoting a “Culture of Engagement,” Not a “Culture of Assessment,”  the Trustees of Princeton University cautioned that, by striving for a culture of assessment (i.e., with externally benchmarked measures), faculty risk promoting: a) standardization of curricula across departments and institutions, at the expense of diverse, individualized missions, b) the inappropriate evaluation of programs using generic/vague surveys and standardized assessments, c) undervaluing non-benchmarked evidence of learning, d) overvaluing standardized test results while undervaluing real-world outcomes like employment and fulfillment post-graduation, e) teaching towards the tests, f), self-validation of assessment policies with no external evidence to support their efficacy in improving real-world learning outcomes. In order to avoid these pitfalls, the authors recommend that institutions of higher education foster a culture of engagement rather than assessment.


Tinsley, P., Shockley, M., Whang, P., Thao, P., Rosenberg, B., and Simmons, B. (2010). Assessment culture: From ideal to real – A process of tinkering. Peer Review, 12(1).

Retrieved from


The Trustees of Princeton University. (2013, September 12). Promoting a “culture of engagement,” not a “culture of assessment” [Remarks to presidents of the American Association of Universities (AAU), prepared for delivery at the AAU meeting on Oct. 23, 2012].

Retrieved from


One thought on “The Culture of Assessment

  1. Nice overview, Xan. The phrase “culture of assessment” can be off-putting to some, and you point out a few of the fears this idea can induce. However, as you break it down in your post, the ideas of enhancing curricular coherence, identifying milestones, and creating an environment that encourages student metacognition make the goals of a culture of assessment much more palatable.

    I immediately see the connections to some of the goals of information literacy within the context of higher education. Curricular coherence – certainly. Identifying milestones – sounds very similar to the idea of threshold concepts, which are part of the current discussion on information literacy. Metacognition – yes.

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