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Planning for Interfaith Assessment: A Guide for Assessing Students' Learning and Development

Carefully planning your interfaith assessment leads to an efficient process and—most importantly—useful assessment findings. IFYC’s two-part assessment planning resources help you determine what you should assess (Part 1) and how to do so (Part 2). If you have not already completed First Steps for Effective Interfaith Assessment: What Should I Assess? (Part 1), we suggest you start with that document if you are unclear what to assess. If you have completed Part 1—or if you already know you want to assess students’ learning and development—you are ready to begin this assessment planning workbook (Part 2). This resource can be used by anyone who wants or needs to collect information about what students learn from interfaith programs and/or the effectiveness of their interfaith programs.

 


Completing the following workbook will enable you to develop a clear assessment plan and timeline for completing your interfaith assessment. It covers each step of the assessment planning process, providing all the information you need to prepare your interfaith assessment project. The workbook is divided into four steps with specific questions to answer. You can use this workbook individually or collectively as a structure for group work related to assessing students’ learning and development. You can complete the workbook all at once, or you may wish to take more time to discuss the information with others.


 

Planning Your Interfaith Assessment: A Brief Overview

This workbook provides information related to the following four steps involved in planning an effective assessment project (Henning & Roberts, 2016):

  • Step 1: Specify your assessment purpose (what you want to learn) and assessment question (what you will ask in order to learn this)
  • Step 2: Determine the information you need to collect to answer your assessment question
  • Step 3: Develop a plan for analyzing and interpreting your assessment findings
  • Step 4: Develop a strategy for sharing and using your assessment findings

For each of these four steps, you will answer specific questions that directly map to your interfaith assessment timeline below. You can use the timeline to understand the various steps of your interfaith assessment project and to keep things organized.

 

Step 1: Develop your interfaith assessment question

By now, you should have already written your assessment purpose statement using the First Steps for Effective Interfaith Assessment: What Should I Assess? resource. If you have determined that the purpose of your interfaith assessment is to understand students’ learning and development related to interfaith programming, the next step is to develop a specific assessment question. Your assessment question guides exactly what you will assess. It asks a specific question that the information you collect will answer. Assessment questions will be different for every program, so selecting a single program to assess is important.

In order to develop your assessment question, answer the two questions that follow:

1. What program do you want to assess?

2. Does this program have learning outcomes? Yes / No

To determine students' learning and development, the program you want to assess must have in place learning outcomes, which explain what students should know or be able to do as a result of participating in interfaith programming. You will need to specify the program’s precise learning outcomes in your assessment question. Doing so serves two purposes. First, this clarifies what you are attempting to answer through your interfaith assessment question for those conducting the assessment and for those with whom you eventually share your assessment findings. Second, this guides the particular types of information to collect to answer your assessment question.

Does the program you want to assess already have learning outcomes? Use the guide below to identify your next steps.

My program has existing learning outcomes. My program does not have existing learning outcomes
  1. Use your program's existing learning outcomes to write your assessment question below.

Your assessment question becomes: As a result of participating in [program name], can students [insert existing learning outcomes here]?

  1. Assessing student learning begins with creating learning outcomes. Your program can create learning outcomes using IFYC's Creating Interfaith Learning Outcomes or Learning Outcomes Bank resources
  2. Once your program creates learning outcomes, you can use these to write your assessment question below.

Your assessment question becomes: As a result of participating in [program name], can students [insert newly developed learning outcomes here]?

 

Here is an example of an assessment question related to students' learning and development:

As a result of participating in the leadership retreat, can students describe effective ways for building relationships with diverse others, explain strategies to promote interfaith cooperation among the student body, and identify their personal biases related to interfaith work.

Now you can write your interfaith assessment question by filling in the information below:

3. As a result of participating in _______________________, can students _______________________________________________________________________?

Step 2: What information should I collect?

Once you write your assessment question, you need to determine the information required to answer that question. It is useful to think about the information you need to collect for an assessment in terms of information already known about the program AND information needed.

What do you already know?

Many campus educators already have a lot of information about their interfaith programs, such as the types and numbers of programs offered, who participates in those programs, and students’ overall perceptions of the programs (i.e., students’ satisfaction). If you are already collecting some of this information, that’s a great place to start. You should include this information as part of your assessment of students’ learning and development because it provides important context about your program and participants. Typically, such information is included in the beginning of an assessment report to describe a program before reporting the types of learning and development that program facilitated.

Collecting information about students’ learning

Assessing whether students have achieved particular learning outcomes requires us to gather information— or evidence—that demonstrates their learning. We can collect information in the form of both direct and indirect evidence (Maki, 2004).

Direct evidence of learning is based on students' demonstration of knowledge or skills gained. Evidence once could collect can include:

  • Presentations or performances
  • Journals/reflections
  • Student projects
  • Portfolios
  • Tests
  • Case studies
  • Student writing samples
  • Assignments

Direct evidence of learning requires students to in some way demonstrate what they have learned through something they produce or enact. For instance, students can take a test, write a paper, construct a portfolio, or deliver a presentation or performance. In each of these instances, students have opportunities to demonstrate particular knowledge or skills. In some cases, direct evidence can be assessed by using a rubric (i.e., something that outlines the main criteria to be assessed and indicators of different levels of learning within each of those criteria). For example, someone might use the Pluralism and Worldview Engagement Rubric to determine the extent to which a student’s written reflection demonstrates attitudes toward pluralism (one of the criteria included in this rubric). Students’ work is typically scored using the rubric and a determination of the amount of learning is derived from that score. Direct evidence of students’ learning is particularly compelling since students are actually demonstrating the acquisition of specific knowledge and skills through their work. However, particular types of learning and development (e.g., attitudes, values, and beliefs) can be difficult to demonstrate through the types of student work described, and scoring each individual student’s work takes time.

Indirect evidence of learning requires students to reflect on their learning and development rather than actually demonstrate these. Indirect assessment represents students’ perceptions of their learning and development (i.e., how much they think they have learned, grown, developed, or changed). These methods are particularly useful in assessing students’ attitudes, values, and beliefs. However, indirect methods measure students’ perceptions, not their actual work. So, specific knowledge and skill acquisition is often quite difficult or impossible to demonstrate using this evidence.

Indirect evidence of learning is based on students' self-reported perception of their learning and development, not their actual work. Students' perceptions can be gathered by:

  • A variety of surveys (this can include post-program surveys, exit surveys, or other institutional surveys)
  • Student focus groups
  • Student interviews