Assessment report for BL A 104 (Principles of Biology I) [prepared December 2001].

A total of 33 undergraduates completed BL A104 Fall 2001 (2 seniors, 7 juniors, 1 sophomore, and 23 freshmen). Majors: biology-8, undeclared-7, Chemistry-4, Applied computer science-3, Nutrition and dietetics-3, Psychology-2, Computer software systems-1, Clinical laboratory science-1, social work-1, Environmental science-1, French-1, Education-1.

There were 4 in-class tests of 35 points, and the statistics are as follows
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

The grim reality is that pupils the lowest performance averaged 18%. This is exactly what was expected when the assessment strategy was written and submitted.

On the other side of the coin, the performance of poor students is a metric to evaluate the performance of the top students. The top scores (92.4% average) are outstanding considering how clearly challenging the informational content of the course was. I am so proud of the performance and improvement of the top students on the final -- 2 at 100%, 1 at 98% and 1 at 94%. It is clear that this assessment is as much of the course and its material as it is of the top-notch students.

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)
Dr. William Stark
Prepared September, 2001


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.


To compare background of graduating biology majors with national norms, the policy SLU's Biology Department adopted April, 1998, built around having majors take the Graduate Record Exam, might have been an excellent strategy. In the subsequent three and a half years, the SLU administration did not obtain data from that adopted policy. Instead, starting September 21, 2000, "each faculty member" was charged to "develop an outcome assessment tool." 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." 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.

This page was last updated 10/24/03

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