Many academic departments now engage in annual cycles of assessment of student learning as well as departmental services. Best practices in higher education, reinforced by regional accrediting bodies, among others, dictate that only when departments assess student achievement and departmental initiatives, integrate those assessments meaningfully, and link them to resource allocation (as applicable) can they truly move down a path of continuous improvement. Yet can those assessments alone, important as they are, answer all the questions that departmental faculty and administrators pose about students, faculty, resources, and services? As a supplement to those assessment data, a set of pre-established, mission-centered metrics provides a barometer of the department’s health and vitality while informing timely decision making in a rapidly changing environment both inside and outside academia.
In “Getting SMART with Assessment: ACTION Steps to Institutional Effectiveness” (Assessment Update, 24: 1), Sandra Jordan and I briefly mention this supplementary data as one of three components of a fully integrated annual program review, which we define as an annual cycle of institutional effectiveness that combines the assessment of student learning with the assessment of departmental operations and often includes other departmental data. Whereas that article primarily explores strategies for promoting, clarifying, and supporting effective assessment strategies, in this article I discuss an annual departmental data review—its process, advantages, and management—as a separate component of institutional effectiveness. Used effectively, an annual departmental data review ultimately intersects with and supports other planning and assessment documents to advance departmental decisions.