Assessment report for:
BL A 415 (Nerve cell mechanisms in behavior)
BL A 615 (Neural bases of behavior)
[prepared January 2003].

A total of 14 undergraduates completed BL A415 Fall 2002 (1 masters, 2 5th year undergraduates, 11 seniors). In addition, 4 graduate students (2 in biology and 2 in psychology) completed the graduate section of the same course, BL A615 (Neural bases of behavior). For the purposes of evaluating this undergraduate course, it seemed appropriate to pool the test scores for these 18 students.11 students were in biology, 3 were in psychology (note the relevance of this course to physiological psychology), 1 was in biomedical engineering, 1 was in computer science, and 1 was a chemistry major (note the relevance of this course as a pre-med elective); (1 was no degree).

For the midterm, based on 100, the high was 80, the mean was 49, and the low was 15.5

For the final, based on 100, the high was 85, the mean was 55, and the low was 30

In 2000, the corresponding numbers were:

Midterm: 85, 60, and 23

Final: 91, 63, and 23

Although the means and ranges are comparable, the overall performance in 2002 seems worse. This could be real, it could be based on harder exams, or worse students, and the class size is too small to determine if any differences are statistically significant. If the lower means are real, the most likely explanation was a striking poor lecture attendance, typically 60%. The grim reality is that pupils at an average of senior level in relevant majors do poorly and do not take advantage of lecture.

On the other side of the coin, the performance of poor students is a metric to exhault the performance of the top students. The top scores (80% and 85% on midterm and final respectively) are outstanding considering how clearly challenging the informational content of the course was. It is clear that the assessment more a course assessment (and an assessment of it's material) than it is of the top-notch students.

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 was at a real disadvantage for quality teaching both semesters in 2002. Each semester, I had two courses. One course each semester was high enrollment. Three of the four offerings involved substantial revisions of lecture and web materials, and this burden was so all-consuming that I cam in to 415 - 615 lectures virtually brain dead. Although my teaching load is anticipated to remain high, it is likely that next time 415- 615 is offered, I will not have so much revision to do simultaneously. I hope to be able to better refresh my familiarity with the material and to deliver livelier lectures. That, I hope, will encourage better attenadnce and hence performance.

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

Below, I reproduce the objectives:

For students contemplating or beginning graduate study in neuroscience, this course should orient them. For students going to medical school, this course should offer them the opportunity to take better advantage of several courses in their academic years. For graduate students already engaged in neuroscience research, as well as graduate and undergraduate students in other areas, this course should present a comprehensive survey of the entire field of neuroscience.

Below, I reproduce the assessment plan:

Outcomes Assessment Plan for Neurobiology
(BL A415 Nerve Cell Mechanisms in Behavior and BL A615 Neural Bases of Behavior)
Dr. William Stark
Prepared October, 2002


This is an elective course for upperclassmen (and a few graduate students), about half biology students, the rest from other departments.

Course Goals

Students are expected to learn a considerable amount of information in the field of neuroscience 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.

The scope of this information is intended to prepare students with the neuroscience background that would be essential for
(a) Graduate studies in neuroscience or a related field.
(b) The relevant medical school courses.


Midterm and final exams are administered, graded, and returned to the students as part of their learning experiences. Special features of the exams are as follows:
(a) All questions are short answer.
(b) They are asked to provide such specific answers to questions that there is little room for subjectivity in the grading.
(c) In many instances, these questions are specifically designed to apply and integrate the information.

For the sake of record keeping, exams are copied before they are returned to the students.

With the semester's course material under their belts, students registered for the graduate section (615) deliver a lecture at the end of the semester in a topic of interest to them that is evaluated on the basis of content and presentation.


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 two and a half years, the SLU administration did not obtain data from that adopted policy. Instead, in September 21, 2000, "each faculty member" was charged to "develop an outcome assessment tool." I could have watered down my expectations to a level where all students would perform marvelously. However, the simple truths are (1) that many biology courses, this one included, strive to present students with a substantial amount of information; and (2) that the best assessment centers around traditional tests. This stated, separate assessments for each course that each faculty member offers is, and has always been, absolutely essential to grade students. However, to serve that function, the test must be challenging enough to distinguish different performance levels. The difficulty of the exams can be verified by the lowest scores. Applied to determining whether the material was substantial and could be mastered, only the performance of the best students on the test can be a meaningful way to assess outcome. Also, this overall strategy is too chaotic to achieve what was stated above, "to quantify the biology background of graduating majors in a way that could be compared to national norms."

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This page was last updated 1/16/03