Growing in Assessment, Evaluation, and Research Competency

Growing in Assessment, Evaluation, and Research Competency


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Having spent six years working in the field of student affairs, I still find myself feeling like a “new” professional at times. There is so much to learn, and at times, I feel like I am not sure what to focus on next. Recently, I found myself looking back at the ACPA and NASPA Professional Competencies (2015) and finding inspiration for self-reflection and growth. Allow me to share with you a few self-reflection questions that have been inspiring me.    


ACPA and NASPA Professional Competencies

In 2015, the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) published the Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Administrators, which includes the professional competency of Assessment, Evaluation, and Research ([AER], p. 20).


While this document can feel a little technical and intimidating, I also find it extremely helpful as a self-reflection tool. For each competency area, ACPA and NASPA have outlined specific outcomes that professionals should demonstrate across three learning levels: foundational, intermediate, and advanced. A few examples of these outcomes are presented below.


Foundational Outcomes

Intermediate Outcomes

Advanced Outcomes

Differentiate between assessment, program review, and research.

Utilize culturally relevant terminology and methods

Lead the development of AER strategic planning

Understanding and following institutional and divisional procedures related to AER

Actively contribute to the development of a culture of assessment

Use AER results to inform institutional decision making

Designing learning outcomes that are clear, specific, and measurable

Create data visualizations to communicate results in a variety of ways

Ensure compliance with standards and policies


Adapted from the ACPA & NASPA Professional Competencies, 2015, p. 20-21.


Personally, I have been transforming each of these outcomes into a reflection question to assess my own growth as a student affairs professional.


Can I differentiate between assessment, program review, and research?

This simple question led me into a deep conversation with my colleague about the differences between assessment, evaluation, and research, and why we use specific approaches to achieve specific goals. While research generally tests hypotheses and leads to generalizable knowledge, assessment and program evaluation are generally confined to a specific context or situation. Consider how you might tell your colleagues about these differences – what would you say? Does your role include assessment only or a combination of AER practices? How might you incorporate different AER designs, methods, and tools into your work?


Do I actively contribute to the development of a culture of assessment?

Is assessment encouraged, embraced, and actively engaged in at my university? What role do I play in this “culture” that exists around me? This has been something that I reflect on often. An interesting study by Theonnes (2017) found that a culture of assessment develops when student affairs professionals engage in assessment work that feels meaningful, professionals feel adequately trained to engage in assessment work, and professionals can engage in meaningful conversations with their colleagues about assessment. Are there ways to encourage assessment conversations that are meaningful on your campus? Are professionals being provided with adequate training to lead assessment activities (and if not, could you initiate some training activities)?  


Can I create data visualizations to communicate results in a variety of ways?

These days, there are a number of tools available to create stunning data visuals, from Power BI to Tableau and Google Data Studio. There are also free online platforms that offer report templates, like Canva. I find myself thinking about how I can improve my visuals to get others excited about data. Does this chart emphasize the key takeaway I want the audience to think about? Have I written the text of this report in a way that is inviting and low in jargon? Consider also how the audience will interact with your results. Should this data be interactive, living in a dashboard, or will this need to exist in a published report?


Have I considered how these results might inform institutional decision making?

I believe that professionals of all levels can be a leader in their position by presenting data in a way that’s meaningful, and then offering informed suggestions based on what’s being presented. For myself, I have been reflecting on how my work should (or does) inform higher-level decision making. Who needs to know about these results, and what would I want to tell them? What direction is the team, department, and institution moving in, and how do these results inform that?


I’d love to hear – what areas are you growing in as an AER professional, and what questions are prompting reflection for you?

Annie Cole, Director of Research, Modern Classrooms Project



American College  Personnel Association & National Association of  Student Personnel Administrators (2015). ACPA and NASPA professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners

Theonnes, K. V. (2017). Assessment disposition: Qualities and strategies for development in student-affairs professionals (Accession No. 10269331) [Doctoral dissertation, North Dakota State University]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.


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