Linda Suskie

 A Common Sense Appr​oach to Assessment in Higher Education


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Getting NSSE (and other assessment) results used

Posted on December 19, 2018 at 10:55 AM

One of my treats this time of year is getting the latest annual report from the National Survey of Student Engagement. I’m an enormous fan of this survey. One reason is that it’s research-based: the questions are all about practices that research has shown help students learn and succeed. Another is that, because the questions mostly ask about specific experiences rather than satisfaction, the results are “actionable”: they make clear what institutions need to do to improve student learning and success.


I’m also a fan of NSSE because of its staff and the time, energy, and thought they’ve put into validating the survey and making the results as relevant and useful as possible.


But I’m also struck by how many institutions I encounter who still aren’t using NSSE results to meaningful ways. If an institution isn’t making good use of NSSE results, what hope is there for it using its student learning assessment results?


I’ve done presentations on why assessment results aren’t used…and keep in mind that’s a different question than why assessment isn’t getting done. There are a lot of potential reasons, some of which may apply to your institution and some of which may not. Several years ago I wrote a blog post that highlighted four possible reasons:

  1. Change must be part of academic culture.
  2. Institutional leaders must commit to and support evidence-based change.
  3. We don’t have a clear sense of what satisfactory results are and aren’t.
  4. Assessment results must be shared clearly and readily.

Most of you reading this aren’t empowered to do much about #1 and #2, and I’ve written a blog post on #3. So let’s focus on #4: Assessment results must be shared clearly and readily. Here are some suggestions:


“Most information is useless. Give yourself permission to dismiss it” (Harris & Muchin, 2002). I think one of the barriers to using NSSE is the sheer volume of information it yields, not to mention the myriad opportunities to slice and dice that information. Before you share NSSE results with anyone, ask yourself, “What are the three most important things I want people to learn from these results?” Here’s an example:

  • In many respects, our students are engaging in their learning more than students at peer institutions.
  • Our first-year students’ study time is declining.
  • Our seniors have fewer capstone experiences than their peers.

That’s plenty for people to chew on! And note that there’s a combination of good news and bad news—it’s not all doom-and-gloom.


Share only what people are willing to act upon. If your institutional community is unwilling to rethink its senior capstone experiences, for example, is it worth sharing NSSE results on those experiences?


Different people need different results. When I've shared NSSE results, I've prepared separate summaries for faculty, for student affairs staff, and for admissions staff (they got all the good news). Know what decisions each group is facing and share only results that will help inform those decisions.


Share a story with a clear point. Give every table, graph, and bulleted list a title that is a sentence that conveys the point of the table. The three points I listed above would make great titles for graphs or bulleted lists.


Consider sharing results through a live slide presentation. After too many years generating reports that no one looked at, I stopped writing reports and instead put key results on PowerPoint slides. Then I invited myself to various meetings to share those slides. This virtually ensured that the results would be at least discussed, if not used. It also forced me to keep the slides and my remarks short and very focused, because my time on the agenda was limited.


Use graphs rather than tables. You want the point to pop out at your audience. NSSE’s website has numerous examples of good visual presentations of results.


Make results easy to find and access. If you put your results on a web page, for example, you’ll need strategies to draw your audience to the web page (Jankowski et al, 2012).


For more ideas on sharing assessment results, see Chapter 25 in my new 3rd edition of Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide.

Categories: Sharing & using results