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
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.
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 (http://starklab.slu.edu/Bio104/Bio104Syllab.htm).
(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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