Assessment report for BL A 106 (Principles of Biology II) [prepared October 29, 2003].

A total of 191 undergraduates completed BL A106 Fall 2003

There were 3 in-class tests of 35 points, and the statistics are as follows:
Test 1- Mean-22.52 (last year 20.73), Standard deviation-5.97 (last year 5.83),
High-34, Low-9
Test 2- Mean-21.01 (last year 22.87), Standard deviation-6.56 (last year 5.38),
High-35, Low-7
Test 3- Mean-23.44 (last year 22.52), Standard deviation-5.62 (Last year 6.06),
High-33, Low-7
Also there was a final of 50 points, and the statistics are as follows
Final- Mean-36.98 (last year 34.72, Standard deviation-6.81 (last year 7.38),
High-49, Low-17

The grim reality is that pupils the lowest performance averaged about chance.

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 are outstanding considering how clearly challenging the informational content of the course was. 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:

Since Fall 2000, Biology faculty were ordered to "develop an outcome assessment tool" where "outcome assessment implies "student outcomes assessment." Since then, I composed essays such as this one 7 times previously for 4 separate courses. Each was similar in that it utilized an analysis of the regular course examinations. Each was similar in that poor performance of some pupils proves that the course has a lot to master. Each was similar in that excellent performance of some students demonstrates that the material is presented so that it can be mastered. Never was I given any criticism of my appraoch, and thus I conclude that this analysis is sufficient to meet the requirements for assessment. Each time, I came to the conclusion that I was doing a "course assessment," not a "student outcomes assessment. At a Biology Department meeting in December, 2002, it was made clear that we were no longer doing "outcomes assessment." Now we are clearly required to do "course assessments," and that adds validity to my approach since that is what I was doing all along.

My objectives (above) start with a no-nonsense statement of what I am doing and are consistent with only a few of the "Saint Louis University Student Learning Outcomes," namely (under "professional development") "Extensive knowledge in an area of study" and "Preparation for advanced study."

Biology faculty were ordered to obtain information so that we could state how we would improve or change 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, since it is already a good course, I would propose to continue to update and improve the lecture and study materials.

In a sense, this is a final report. In January, 2003, Dr Mayden, Chair of Biology, decided to make changes in BL A-104 (first semester principles) and BL A-106 (this course, second semester principles). These changes were so sweeping that they make any statement of how I am improving the course merely an exercise. Without consultation with the tenured professors teaching the course, the curriculum committee or the undergraduate affairs committee, he decided to (1) change texts, (2) make fewer and higher enrollment sections, (3) go to team teaching, and (4) change instructors. Initially, instruction was assigned to one non-tenured tenure-track assistant professor and two non tenure track instructirs until one of the latter resigned. So, you see, these are not the changes that would be indicated by the results of this assessment analysis.

Below, I reproduce the assessment plan:

Outcomes Assessment Plan for Principles of Biology II (BL A106)
Dr. William Stark
Prepared in 2002 and updated October, 2003


This course is intended for freshmen. By this, the second semester, non-science majors fulfilling their arts and sciences science requirement are no longer taking Principles of Biology. This leaves mostly students who are or presently intend to be biology majors; also there are pre-health professionals majoring in other departments.

Description from the Saint Louis University Undergraduate Catalogue:

BL-A106 Principles of Biology II (4)
Lecture three hours per week, laboratory three hours per week. A continuation of BL-A104. Course emphasizes plant and animal development, ecology, behavior, structure and function of organ systems, and phylogeny.


This assessment plan and its analysis pertains only to lecture. Assessment relating to lab is the responsibility of Mr. Tom Buettner.


A student completing BL 106 lecture should be well educated in the process of scientific discovery in biology, in the basic principles of biology relating to diversity of organisms, structure and function, animal behavior and ecology. Prospective Biology majors attaining these goals will be prepared to continue in subsequent Biology courses. Students pursuing other majors will have acquired a broad foundation in Biological Science.

These objectives are the same for my section (-01) of BL A106 as well as the other section (-02). In compliance with a requirement from the Provost's office, as communicated to the freshman teachers on October 1, 2001 by Biology's assessment committee, these objectives are made available to students on the syllabus (in my case by being hyperlinked to the syllabus on my course web site).

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.


Three in-class hourly exams and a final exam are administered and graded. Students keep the question booklets as part of their learning experience, and answers are posted on the internet after the exam. Special features of the exams are as follows:
(a) All questions are completely objective and 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.
(d) The tests are very difficult, as judged by how the class performs.

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


On 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. While the information gathered is extremely useful, it cannot be used to compare background of students with any national norms.

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 achieved what was claimed above, i.e. presentation of a "considerable amount of information in the field of biology." If the best students do well, it can also be concluded that the material was presented in a way where (s)he could learn it. Importantly, it is the poor performance of some students that offers the necessary control for this analysis -- proof that there was a lot to learn.

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.

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 will hyperlink this assessment to the syllabus (see above, Assessment section).

return to Stark home page

return to syllabus

this page was last updated 10/30/03