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Author: Eric Daffron, PhD

Many academic departments now engage in annual cycles of assessment of student learning as well as departmental services. Best practices in higher education, reinforced by regional accrediting bodies, among others, dictate that only when departments assess student achievement and departmental initiatives, integrate those assessments meaningfully, and link them to resource allocation (as applicable) can they truly move down a path of continuous improvement. Yet can those assessments alone, important as they are, answer all the questions that departmental faculty and administrators pose about students, faculty, resources, and services? As a supplement to those assessment data, a set of pre-established, mission-centered metrics provides a barometer of the department’s health and vitality while informing timely decision making in a rapidly changing environment both inside and outside academia. In “Getting SMART with Assessment: ACTION Steps to Institutional Effectiveness” (Assessment Update, 24: 1), Sandra Jordan and I briefly mention this supplementary data as one of three components of a fully integrated annual program review, which we define as an annual cycle of institutional effectiveness that combines the assessment of student learning with the assessment of departmental operations and often includes other departmental data. Whereas that article primarily explores strategies for promoting, clarifying, and supporting effective assessment strategies, in this article I discuss an annual departmental data review—its process, advantages, and management—as a separate component of institutional effectiveness. Used effectively, an annual departmental data review ultimately intersects with and supports other planning and assessment documents to advance departmental decisions.                    What is an annual departmental data review? An annual departmental data review, conducted by the academic department with the assistance of the university’s Institutional Research office, is the collection, review, and use of data about the department’s students, faculty, programs, and operations. Depending on current priorities (institutional, divisional, college, and departmental), data points may vary but could include the following examples: The departmental data review entails as many as five annual steps: What are the advantages of an annual departmental data review? An annual data review has four interrelated advantages: How can an annual departmental data review be effective without becoming burdensome? Departmental faculty and administrators are inundated with so many requests and duties that the thought of another report can be daunting. Three basic principles can alleviate the perceived burden of a data review:  The 21st-century university cannot escape the need to make data-informed decisions—and the urgency to make those decisions rapidly. An annual departmental data review should be integrated into a comprehensive institutional effectiveness program. Those data, if reviewed annually and used effectively, can advance departmental decision making.         Eric Daffron serves as vice provost for curriculum and assessment at Ramapo College of New Jersey. Prior to that position, he served as administrator and faculty member at Mississippi University for Women.