Dr. Sara Finney shares an overview of her involvement with CAS and insight for using CAS resources as a higher education professional.
Sara Finney, PhD, is a professional in higher education who has been using CAS resources to raise her standards. In her current role at James Madison University, Dr. Finney oversees the Student Affairs Assessment Support Services (SASS) team at the Center for Assessment and Research Studies (CARS)
Dr. Finney was featured for her recent collaboration with the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. Her research in Program Theory and Implementation Fidelity offered an expert perspective for reviewing the 50+ standards during the update of the CAS “Blue Book.” Her suggestions related to program theory, evidence-informed programming, and implementation fidelity were incorporated in the 11th Version of the CAS General Standards.
Dr. Finney was introduced to CAS over 20 years ago in 2001. At this time, she worked supporting student affairs professionals’ evaluation of their programming at JMU. She learned more about CAS directly by attending informational sessions at NASPA and ACPA.
Below Dr. Sara Finney shares an overview of her involvement with CAS and insight for using CAS resources as a higher education professional:
Describe your involvement with CAS:
I have been using and promoting The CAS Standards for 20 years. As an assessment specialist, my clients are primarily in the Division of Student Affairs. As new student affairs educators are hired, I use The CAS Standards to orient them to the shared expectations of the profession. Similarly, The CAS Standards are incredibly useful when I work with CSPA faculty to educate the next generation of student affairs professionals. Moreover, when providing workshops and consultations regarding the design, assessment, and improvement of educational and development programming, I center The CAS Standards. In fact, all the training I provide is situated in The General Standards. I overtly link every assessment-related training (e.g., writing student learning outcomes, selecting and designing measures, using results for improvement) to specific CAS Standards. During the 2023-2024 academic year, I and my JMU team are providing three-hour learn-and-work professional development sessions every month that are intentionally linked to particular CAS standards.
Beyond my use of The CAS Standards to guide work locally at JMU, I also publish on the utility of CAS to support assessment work more broadly. To highlight the importance of The CAS Standards to student affairs professionals’ work, I published an article that linked the CAS Standards to the assessment cycle. This article and the visual linkage is something I share at nearly every presentation or workshop I provide. Moreover, I wrote a chapter that featured how CAS facilitates high-quality programming and assessment in student affairs.
More recently, I wrote an article with Jen Wells (past editor for CAS) and Gavin Henning (past president of CAS) where we called for CAS to incorporate program theory, evidence-informed programming, and implementation fidelity into The CAS Standards. The call was based on research, presentations, and workshops I had offered over the previous decade.
CAS responded to that call and invited me to review and provide feedback on version 10 of The CAS Standards. I suggested a number of changes related to articulating program theory (why and how programming should impact intended outcomes); employing evidence-informed strategies, pedagogy, and activities during programming; and gathering implementation fidelity data (alignment between the planned programming and the programming students actually experienced). These components are critical for high-quality program design, assessment, and improvement and they greatly facilitate articulating why student affairs professionals are offering, improving, or sunsetting particular programming.
Any insight for new assessment professionals who want to use CAS, where should they start?
Use the CAS Standards to guide your work and to understand shared expectations. The General Standards are incredibly clear regarding shared expectations (i.e., “MUST” statements). Then seek out resources directly linked to meeting these standards. For example, I have created training materials and resources to support professionals achieving the “MUST” statements related to assessment (explicitly linked via showing the standards at the start of the training or resource). I share these trainings and resources at conferences. Of note, Gavin Henning and I have a pre-conference session at NASPA in March 2024 on program theory and implementation fidelity and this content will be framed using the new CAS Standards. Moreover, I have a great deal of asynchronous supports on this website that is specific to student affairs assessment: https://www.jmu.edu/assessment/sass/index.shtml I believe these resources build nicely off of the high-quality conference sessions and resources offered by CAS.
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