Assessment report for BL A 104 (Principles of Biology I, Fall, 2002)
[prepared Jan. 13, 2003].

Since assessment is in the context of objectives, it is important to state that uniform (for all sections of BL A 104) learning objectives were adopded in October, 2001, submitted and presumably approved. These are presented at this web site:

A total of 117 students completed BL A104 Fall 2002. About 84% were freshmen and most of the remainder were sophomores. About 20% were biology majors. About 22% had other majors relevant to life sciences (like masters of physical therapy / exercise science). About 8% were majors in other science and math. About 10% were non-science majors. About 38% were undeclared.

There were 4 in-class tests of 35 points, and the statistics are as follows:
Test 1- Mean-27.0, Standard deviation-5.40, High-35, Low-12
Test 2- Mean-24.33, Standard deviation-5.96, High-34, Low-8
Test 3- Mean-25.61, Standard deviation-5.47, High-34, Low-11
Test 4 - Mean-24.89, Standard deviation-5.84, High-35, Low-13
Also there was a final of 50 points, and the statistics are as follows
Final- Mean-34.33, Standard deviation-7.89, High-49, Low-16

The results for last year, a smaller class of 33, were:
Test 1- Mean-23,73, Standard deviation-6.38, High-32, Low-8
Test 2- Mean-22.36, Standard deviation-5.66, High-32, Low-10
Test 3- Mean-22.55, Standard deviation-6.49, High-33, Low-8
Test 4- Mean-21.63, Standard deviation-6.12, High-30, Low-6
Also there was a final of 50 points, and the statistics are as follows
Final- Mean-35.42, Standard deviation-9.05, High-50, Low-13

From the standpoint of student outcomes, there appears to be improvement on every exam. I doubt that this improvement is statistically significant. Also, it is possible that the tewts were easier. It is also possible that the students were better.

However, it is possible that the course was better. Each year, I spend about 4 hours per lecture updating and improving material and web pages. Also, I went to greater efforts this year to emphasize use of previous exams for study. In new documents provided 12/11/02 by a newly-constituted biology department assessment committee, the end point in our course assessments is to evaluate how "assessment information will be used to improve" the course. I would interpret the improvement, assuming it is real, to indicate that efforts to update and improve the lecture and study materials is useful and should continue.

In new documents provided 12/11/02 by a newly-constituted biology department assessment committee, assessment is no longer called "outcomes assessment" (implying that how students perform is emphasized). Rather, it is now "course assessment." As I have been doing for several years, a careful analysis of exam scores is ideally suited for course assessment. Pupils with the lowest performance (about 1/3 correct when 1/5 correct is chance) indicate how clearly challenging the informational content of the course was. The performance of these poor students is a metric to evaluate the performance of the top students (100% or close on every test). Obviously the material is presented so that students can learn the material.

At the present time, the course (exams and answers included) can be found at:

Below, I reproduce the assessment plan:

Outcomes Assessment Plan for Principles of Biology I (BL A104) 2002
Dr. William Stark
Prepared August, 2002


This is a course intended for freshmen, biology majors, pre-health professionals majoring in other departments and non-science majors fulfilling their arts and sciences science requirement.

Course Goals

Students are expected to learn a considerable amount of information in the field of biology provided by:
(a) A modern and pedagogically advanced text.
(b) A web page providing lecture outlines and past examinations (
(c) Lectures utilizing the web outline and informational diagrams.

Special features of the lecture:
(a) Fundamental points are repeated in every context to which they apply, and it is considered that redundancy is very good in pedagogy.
(b) Whenever possible, a topic is developed with something the students should already know as the starting point.
(c) The previous point notwithstanding, enough background is presented in an attempt to make every point understandable by the intelligent but uninformed.
(d) The syllabus touches on every chapter in a somewhat encyclopaedic text.
(e) Stories are presented that integrtate material from different chapters.
(f) Reference is made to when a certain point was covered before or will be covered later (hyperlinks).

The scope of this information is intended to prepare students with the biology background that would be essential for
(a) being a student educated in science.
(b) all higher level biology courses.


Four in class hourly exams and a final exam are administered, graded, and returned to the students as part of their learning experience. Also answers are posted on the internet after the exam. Special features of the exams are as follows:
(a) All questions are multiple choice.
(b) Exams are short enough that running out of time is not a consideration.
(c) In many instances, these questions are specifically designed to apply and integrate the information.

For the sake of record keeping, answer sheets are retained by the professor.


Starting September 21, 2000, "each faculty member" was charged to "develop an outcome assessment tool." This order superceded plans the depaqrtment adopted years earlier but which were never put into effect. In the checkered history of the SLU administration's changing mandates, faculty have never been specifically told whether what they are doing is (1) used, (2) useful, or (3 acceptable. I have decided that the best assessment centers around traditional tests. I devote a considerable amount of time (about 100 hours per semester) writing tests that will be fair, discriminating and useful as a learning experience.

It is quite useful to have the scores be widely distributed so that grades represent the real differences in student abilities. Grades in science courses are essential in determining coveted access into medical and other health professional schools. There are many students for whom science is not their forte. It is crucial at the introductory level in the sciences to give these students the information they need to make intelligent choices about their majors before they invest too much effort and get in over their heads at the upper division classes.

To serve the function of grading students, the test must be challenging enough to distinguish different performance levels. Only the performance of the best students on the test can be a meaningful way to assess whether the course presented the material necessary for the student in a way where (s)he could learn it. Interestingly, it is the poor performance of some students that presents the necessary control for this study. Separate assessments for each course that each faculty member offers would be too chaotic to quantify the biology background of graduating majors in a way that could be compared to standard norms.

In a memo dated 9/12/01, The Biology Department's newly formed assessment committee stated for the first time that assessments should lead us to develop "a statement indicating how the information they have gathered over the past year assisted them in improving teaching skills and/or course content." I have given considerable thought to this command. I have added a section to my course information, new Fall, 2002, on studying tips, and there is a section in that document on how to use posted tests to study. If (perish the thought) the main goal were to show uniformly high performance among students with widely differing capabilities, then I could achieve that goal by either covering less information or writing easier tests. In either case, grade inflation would be a necessary outcome, and that is unacceptable. I have devoted a vast fraction of my entire career as a university scholar in teaching for over 30 years. Much of that effort is focussed on "improving teaching skills and/or course content" by further mastering and organizing the material and making its presentation more accessible. These improvements are a lifelong and continuing process and they will continue irrespective of a statement of the analysis of this course's assessment.

In compliance with a requirement from the Provost's office, relayed to the Biology faculty at a faculty meeting on January 14, 2002 by the chair and the assessment committee, I have hyperlinked a brief statement about assessment to the syllabus (see above, Assessment section).

This page was last updated 1/13/03

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