A Guide to Professional Development: The Assessment Skills Framework

A Guide to Professional Development: The Assessment Skills Framework

Two recent blog posts (click here and here) have mentioned the various forms of professional development for assessment professionals. With many forms available, professional development is most valuable when aligned with a superficial goal or reason for learning more about assessment. Two assessment practitioners, Dr. S. Jeanne Horst and Caroline Prendergast at James Madison University thought the same thing. Just this year, they published the first professional development map for assessment professionals, called the Assessment Skills Framework.

The Assessment Skills Framework covers eight different large skill areas that coincide with each part of the assessment cycle. Within each skill area are tangible objectives that assessment professionals should strive for,which lay out specific skill criteria at foundational, intermediate, and advanced levels. It’s the perfect tool for self-assessment, professional development mapping, and/or work evaluations. Of course, this framework doesn’t come without hesitation. We student affairs professionals already have assessment standards established by  CAS, ACPA/NASPA, and the ASK standards through ACPA. Why is another  needed? What’s the point?

I had the chance to speak with Caroline Prendergast, co-creator of the Assessment Skills Framework. Caroline is a PhD student at James Madison University’s Assessment and Measurement program, and her research focuses on improving student learning in higher education. Below is the brief Q&A exchange between Caroline and myself (Note: CP=Caroline Prendergast).

Student affairs already has assessment standards through CAS, ACPA, and NASPA. Some functional areas like housing or academic advising also have organizations that outline assessment standards. Where does the Assessment Skills Framework (ASF) fit in all of this? Why is the ASF important?

CP:  In the research article that debuted the ASF, we note that CAS, ACPA, and NASPA provide a useful framework, but it does not articulate assessment standards at the level the ASF provides. Instead of incorporating this as a new competency for student affairs professionals, this could be seen as a fine-tuned way of becoming more proficient at something that is already required of them.

Personal insights: I agree with Caroline here- we as student affairs professionals already have so many different standards to guide our practice. The ASF doesn’t necessarily add anything to our plate, but instead assists us in becoming more proficient with assessment and evidence-informed practices. With the ACPA/NASPA competencies telling us that we should be doing this already, the difference with the ASF (in my opinion) is the ASF gives a little more direction and detail. That’s perfect for student affairs professionals, who do so much that we sometimes need things spelled out for us, as it makes our lives easier!

How do we use the ASF? Who is it for?

CP: We intend for the ASF to have multiple uses. When first creating the ASF, we wanted it to help organize the many professional development opportunities here at JMU’s Center for Assessment and Research Studies. We offer a broad variety of opportunities, but we didn’t have a way to organize them. The framework helped us figure out where we were falling short in offering our colleagues the resources they needed to conduct high-quality assessment.

We also envision the frame as aiding in practitioner professional development through self-reflection. Many people “fall into” their assessment responsibilities with little idea of what they need to know (and no clear way to find out what they don’t know). We hope that the ASF can aid both new and experienced assessment practitioners as a tool to evaluate their knowledge and plan next steps.

Personal insights: Caroline does a great job describing how the ASF can be used. Any school or organization can use this tool as a means to assist with organizing their current opportunities for assessment development, in addition to using it to create new opportunities that build upon what they already have. This way, it may also help prevent having duplicate offerings, saving time and precious resources to put toward a different initiative. The ASF also helps with self-reflection.

Finally, zooming out a bit, what is your perception on professional development of assessment for student affairs professionals? 

CP: Student affairs professionals are expected to be highly competent in a dizzying array of domains, and they’re expected to do so while providing essential resources to students. In the past few years, attention has turned toward assessment in two ways: 1) critiquing current best-practices and 2) advocating for an increase in assessment training. This is great! Universities and professional organizations should be providing resources and, crucially, time to student affairs professionals to enable the continued development of assessment-related skills. It is critical that we provide evidence for our practices, and that we contribute to the literature so that others can learn from our successes and missteps. A sound foundation in assessment plays an important role in that process.

Personal insights: One of my blog posts touches on a large part of what Caroline discusses  about using evidence to inform our practices as student affairs professionals. We can no longer program for the sake of programming- we have to base what we’re doing in solid research and evidence. We need to then share those results with the rest of the student affairs community so that others know if it works or not. We love to share resources- this is no different! I also agree that we need to think about assessment as part of this process. Assessment isn’t just the data analysis when the program is over; assessment starts as soon as you start planning the program!

Overall, Caroline has some great insight into the Assessment Skills Framework, and is able to describe many of the benefits it brings to the student affairs community. Especially in 2020, assessment is more than just important: it’s critical to ensuring student success. As student affairs professionals, many of us end up using assessment as part of our role. Therefore, using a tool like the Assessment Skills Framework can assist us with sharpening our assessment skills. With the ASF, we have the opportunity to not just “wander” through the realm of assessment, but forge a guided path to become the best at what we do- using data and evidence to support our students.

Suggested Activity with the ASF

  • Go through the ASF and do a self-evaluation of your proficiency in each skill outlined.
  • Make a summary of your strong and weak points.
  • Find opportunities at and outside your institution that will help you address your weak areas and reinforce your strong areas.
  • BONUS: Supervisors, use this framework to help evaluate your staff. After you and your staff member do an evaluation, get together and discuss where ratings are the same and different. After that, think about opportunities to develop your staff!


Horst, S.J., & Prendergast, C.O. (2020). The assessment skills framework: A taxonomy of assessment knowledge, skills and attitudes. Research and practice in assessment, 15(1), 1-25.

Christopher Patterson, James Madison University

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