Dr. Tammie Cumming serves as Associate Provost and Assistant Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness at Brooklyn College.  She has provided educational research and assessment support services in higher education and at ACT Inc. for more than 25 years.  Dr. Cumming is a frequent speaker on educational assessment and accreditation on a national/international level and recently served as a U.S. delegate for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes task force.  Dr. Cumming co-edited Enhancing Assessment in Higher Education: Putting Psychometrics to Work (2017), which has been endorsed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education, and the Association for Institutional Research.  She is also co-author of “High-Impact Practices: Administrators and Providers Working to Maximize Online Survey Response Rates” in Basic Elements of Survey Research in Education: Addressing the Problems Your Advisor Never Told You About (Information Age Publishing, 2021).  Forthcoming publications include Measurement and Assessment in Higher Education, Concepts and Techniques (Springer 2022); The Next Generation Assessment Surveys: Validity, Reliability and Fairness (working title, Stylus 2023); “The Assessment of Institutional Climate, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Higher Education”in Overcoming Resistance (working title, Taylor & Francis 2023).  Dr. Cumming serves as co-host of AAC&U’s Next-Generation Assessment Web-Bite series. She earned her Ph.D. in applied statistics and psychometrics from the University of Iowa.

Tammie Cumming
Tammie Cumming

Can you give us a brief “history” of assessment in your career?

I stumbled upon the educational measurement and research field when I was an undergraduate at the University of Florida.  In Florida, if you want to teach high school, you major in the discipline you plan to teach and earn a certification in secondary education, which includes a required 2-credit Educational Measurement course.  During my last semester as an undergraduate, I took this course and fell in love with the field immediately. I had no idea that educational measurement stemmed from the 1800’s. This exposure to educational measurement changed my career trajectory, and I pursued a master’s degree at UF and then went on to earn a Ph.D. at The University of Iowa, which is known for its psychometric doctoral program. I was offered a position in the research division of ACT (the college entrance exam company) while ABD at Iowa and stayed there until my husband passed away from cancer.

After my husband’s passing, I reflected upon where I wanted to be, since we had no other family in Iowa, and – as fate would have it – one of my sons was offered the title role in a Broadway musical (Billy Elliot) in NYC.  I made the move with my family to New York after I applied and was hired for the position of Director of Assessment and Institutional Research at City Tech.   I had an amazing City Tech team, and I learned a great deal from the faculty. City Tech President Russ Hotzler was an incredible leader with a genuine understanding of the importance of the data we provided to him, and, as our leader, he kept us motivated and excited to serve the college in the very best ways that we could.

I also learned much from my CUNY Assessment Council colleagues and benefited from having a council to support the work we were doing.  Along the way, I became interested in accreditation and was invited to provide assessment workshops to faculty and staff on behalf of our regional accreditor, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), and ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology).   Along with Dean Chris Shults from BMCC and Dean Michael Sachs from John Jay, we developed a CUNY peer support system for accreditation, knowing it would be helpful as we began to navigate the new 2014 Middle States Standards. Well, new back then . . . not so new now.   I contacted Karen Kapp at CUNY Central and we formed the CUNY MSCHE Council, which has continued and evolved in a magnificent manner that I had never imagined.   Ten years after my arrival at City Tech, an opportunity arose to serve as the Associate Provost for Institutional Effectiveness at Brooklyn College.  I thought I was up for the responsibilities and made the exciting move. 

How and when did you first come to see the value of assessment?

Well, that’s a very interesting question. I went from a young undergraduate at the University of Florida as a mathematical statistics major, then earned a master’s in educational research and measurement, and then to Iowa for a Ph.D. in psychometrics and applied statistics, and later to work at ACT, which many consider a think tank in education.  So, in my professional world, assessment is highly valued.  I will never forget my first day at City Tech in 2009 when I quickly learned assessment is not valued in the same way by some faculty and many others. I immediately understood that I was faced with a challenge that I was determined to overcome. I realized some assessment practices that were commonplace were not actually good practices – and that you only get one chance to make a good first impression with the faculty, administrators, and staff with assessment.  I decided to become active in the field within the CUNY Assessment council, learn as much as I could about assessment in the context of higher education, get out in the world and make presentations, write refereed publications, and get to know – and work with – our regional and professional accreditors.

I’m a strong advocate of establishing credibility among assessment leaders. Knowing how faculty value refereed publications, I try to publish and present as much as possible – and this strategy has worked well for me. I did not set out to write a book, but my colleague and I put together an edited assessment volume with contributions from revered assessment professionals. This book ended up with the endorsement of three professional organizations. As a result of this effort, we are writing two more books – one for Springer Publishers on Next Generation Assessment and one for Stylus Publishers on Survey Research.  I have authored chapters in two new books, as well. Throughout the ten years I spent at City Tech, I was fortunate to see the “barge” move in the direction of progress. We made great strides in using assessment of learning outcomes to guide program changes, increase retention and graduation rates, and see the impact of our work.

I always work with faculty to “market” the importance of assessment on the academic side of the house. I never take an academic assessment meeting without a faculty member. I realized that it was best to have an advocate – faculty to faculty – to explain the utility of assessment. Once I was able to help faculty understand that assessment is a part of “their” curriculum and that assessment does have standards—validity, reliability, and fairness—faculty were able to better accept assessment as a scholarly activity. Gradually, faculty started to appreciate assessment; of course, not all faculty, but we made great strides. Faculty are smart people – they just want to make sure they engage in a meaningful process, otherwise it’s a waste of their time.

What have you learned about assessment from the vantage point of Associate Provost?

I am very fortunate to be at a college under the leadership of President Michelle Anderson and Provost Anne Lopes, who value data and champion a data-driven culture.  I have the opportunity to take the volumes of available data and translate that data into meaningful information, which informs policy and practices for the college.  I am also fortunate to work with some of the most brilliant faculty I have encountered – and I have encountered many through my collaborations with faculty at Oxford, Cambridge, Kings’ College London, Notre Dame University of Lebanon, University of CAMPINAS in Sao Paolo, the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and the American University of Paris.  I find working with dedicated faculty to be highly enjoyable. If you can give a compelling reason why faculty should give assessment a try, and if the assessment activity provides them with meaningful, actionable data, you’re well on your way to building a meaningful culture of assessment. The same holds true for administrators and staff who are extremely busy people, so we definitely want to engage staff in an efficient and meaningful assessment process.

Now that I oversee Institutional Effectiveness, I have a much broader perspective of the usefulness of assessment at many different levels. I find myself using direct and indirect assessment methods to provide a view of the state of the college, identify areas that might require further assessment and evaluation, inform policy decisions, and provide key constituencies with just-in-time information they need, particularly regarding important strategic initiatives and budgetary considerations.

During the pandemic, colleges paused their assessment practices because of modality changes in teaching, advising, servicing student needs, and the disruption in students’ and faculty’s lives. How has your office approached assessment since March, 2020?

Well, we were challenged just like everybody else. I brainstormed with my CUNY Assessment Council and MSCHE Council colleagues, talked to assessment folks at different institutions, and worked with AAC&U to build a supportive community to promote a national discussion on assessment issues that arose due to the abrupt transition to the remote learning/teaching/working environment. At Brooklyn College, we continued full throttle with Administrative, Educational, and Student Support unit assessment, continued with a very successful general education assessment data collection process, and took some time to evaluate the external review process at the college. It seems we did more assessment work than ever before, and the data was very important in driving decisions in the college’s response to the pandemic.

What impact did the required switch to online for teaching & learning have on assessment of student work?

We saw a huge interest among our faculty in learning about assessment best practices in an online learning environment. Our Center for Teaching and Learning moved mountains and developed some very strong workshops. We spoke with faculty about using assessment methods other than tests in their courses and referred them to our colleagues at the School of Professional Studies, which has a comprehensive online pedagogy.

Dr. M. David Miller from the University of Florida and I developed a national ‘web-bite’ series sponsored by the AAC&U. One of our web-bites featured a discussion with Dr. Jennifer Bergeron of Harvard University, which focused on how faculty could engage with students in the remote learning environment and develop and conduct appropriate assessments of student learning in this environment.  It was amazing to see colleagues come together within CUNY and across the country to support each other during this very challenging time.  I would say that it felt like we were becoming an “assessment family.”

You actively assist CUNY colleges prepare for their MSCHE evaluation and visit.   How has MSCHE changed since the pandemic?  Do you think some of those changes might continue?

The response by MSCHE was incredible. The MSCHE leadership was very supportive – I could pick up the phone and ask our MSCHE VP anything. Middle States conveyed the message that there should be no assessment “pause” and that assessment is probably more important than ever, and I agreed with them. The standards of accreditation remain embedded with assessment requirements, and that will not change.  A segment of our web-bite interview with the MSCHE President Heather Perfetti and Dr. Christy Faison, who serves as the Senior Vice President for Accreditation Relations and Accreditation Services, is provided so folks can hear it directly from them:  https://youtu.be/BR-ZlncDl5E

Do you see changes to academic and non-academic assessment practices post-COVID?

Absolutely. The pandemic definitely brought more attention to the inequities in higher education and that includes our field.  I think the time is now to engage in what many in the country are calling Next Generation Assessment or NGA.  NGA includes the consideration of validity, which is the most important property of an assessment in my view – and fairness, or what many refer to as equity or bias. I have seen committees convened to discuss these important issues, collect data, and engage in research and evaluation to draft a plan of action to address inequities that have come to light.  A “Research 1 institution” has developed standards for equity and inclusion in the context of assessment that has faculty highly engaged. We are listening closely and hoping to do something similar at Brooklyn College as we learn from our colleagues at other CUNY and non-CUNY institutions.   This past year has included the discovery that assessment can meet the demands of a national crisis and continue to produce vital information regarding student success.

Author(s)

Interviewed by: Richard LaManna, Bronx Community College, CUNY

 

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