Outcome Measures

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Establishing, Presenting and Using Outcome Measures ∗
Outcome measures are important to accreditation and other forms of evaluation. Outcome measures are quantifiable indicators that gauge productivity, in this case productivity of a school or graduate program of public health. Although this paper refers to schools, the information and advice herein are also applicable to graduate programs outside schools of public health. These quantifiable indicators may represent a school in its entirety, or an individual function carried out by a school, such as education, research, or service. Outcome measurement, sometimes referred to as performance measurement or outcomes assessment, is the practice of identifying and assessing 1 or more indicators that capture and reflect the achievements of a school or program. Monitoring of indicators enables a school to document the outcomes, successes and ultimately the effectiveness of its efforts. The use of outcome measures to characterize a school is not a substitute for reflective observation of the processes associated with the life of the academy, such as the nature of the social networks among students, faculty and alumni; the feeling of allegiance to an institution and its science; and the sense of belonging to a profession. The use of outcome measures is not a substitute for thoughtful evaluation, nor does it relieve schools from observing and assessing the less tangible parts of the academic mission, the things that are not easily measured. The use of outcome measures is an adjunct to these processes; it should support and sustain deliberative evaluation that is meaningful to the multiple stakeholders of a school. The emphasis on outcome measurement has expanded in recent years due to mounting pressure for accountability and the need to document effectiveness to various constituents. This interest has occurred in higher education; in disciplines such as medicine, public health, and business; and even in the federal government, where Congress in 1993 enacted the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA),1 requiring federal agencies to develop strategic plans, set goals and objectives, and identify quantifiable measures in order to judge effectiveness and success of an agency’s activities. Identifying and monitoring outcome measures has utility in planning and evaluation efforts, but it can also provide the critical evidence necessary to garner support from various stakeholders important to an institution, such as legislators, university officials, faculty, students, external funders, employers, and other community representatives. Assessment, defined as “the process of collecting, organizing, and interpreting data for the purposes of determining to what degree an educational program is meeting its mission, goals and objectives,” plays an important role in documenting the effectiveness of an institution and can be an important factor in an accreditation review.2 Accreditation is about assessment at many ∗ This is a technical assistance document, intended to be helpful to institutions seeking accreditation and to site visit teams in evaluating schools and programs. It is not a policy paper and does not supplant formally adopted criteria that guide the decision-making process of the Council on Education for Public Health. Interested parties should refer to Accreditation Criteria for Schools of Public Health, June 2005 or Accreditation Criteria for Public Health Programs, June 2005, for the accreditation criteria. 1 Government Performance Results Act of 1993. Office of Management and Budget, White House Website. Available at: www.whitehouse.gov/omb/mgt-gpra/gplaw2m.html. Accessed 8/27/01 2 Gelmon, SB, Reagan JT. Assessment in a Quality Improvement Framework; A Sourcebook for Health Administration Education. AUPHA. June 1995. different levels. Accreditation evolved through the years, moving away from judgments solely about resources and inputs, toward the evaluation of outcomes. In...
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