Assessment report for BL A 415 (Nerve cell mechanisms in behavior) [prepared
A total of 14 undergraduates completed BL A415 Fall 2000 (1 5th year undergraduate,
9 seniors, 2 juniors and 1 sophomore). In addition, 2 students, one a senior
(*) and the other a first year unclassified graduate student later accepted
as a biology MS student (**) 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 16 students, but the students in the graduate section are marked
(* or **). 12 students were biology majors, 1 was a psychology major (note
the relevance of this course to physiological psychology), and 2 were chemistry
majors (note the relevance of this course as a pre-med elective).
The scores for these students out of 88 points total for the midterm exam
The scores for these students out of 125 points total for the final exam
The grim reality is that pupils at an average of senior level in relevant
majors spread out in a distribution with 2/16 students scoring less than
1/3 on each test. This is exactly what was expected when the assessment
strategy was written and submitted. It would have been possible, within
the framework of our assignment of assessing each biology course, to come
up with a strategy that would have rendered happier though less honest information
and to have presented these statistics in this report. ("There are
three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics" - Benjamin Disraeli
[quoted in Mark Twain's autobiography, Chapter 29]). Each time I teach a
course, it is a source of melancholy to witness pupils who waste such educational
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 (85% and
91% on midterm and final respectively) are outstanding considering how clearly
challenging the informational content of the course was. The top scoring
student for the final was Carla Engelke who won the College of A & S's
outstanding senior award (biology department). I am so proud of the performance
of these students. As you can see, the assessment is as much of the course
and its material as it is of the top-notch students.
At the present time, I retain the exams for record. It is amazing how much
the top students learned.
At the present time, the course (exams included) can be found at:
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, 2000
This is an elective course for upperclassmen, mostly senior biology majors,
and graduate students.
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 (http://starklab.slu.edu/neuro/SyllabusNeuro98.htm).
(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
(a) All questions are short answer.
(b) Students are presented with figures they have seen in text, lecture
and web site.
(c) They are asked to provide such specific answers to questions that there
is little room for subjectivity in the grading.
(d) 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
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. Applied to determining
whether the course goals were met, 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."
Return to Syllabus
Return to Stark home page
This page was last updated 8/22/03