Steve Stratton, Ph.D.
Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care, Asbury Theological Seminary
We were in the process of revamping our assessment process to make it more strategic and user-friendly. We also wanted the ability to benchmark our students against normative data from schools that were similar to Asbury Theological Seminary. As a strategic choice for our overall assessment process, the STI provided a reliable and valid snapshot of the “relational spirituality” of our students at the beginning and end of their seminary experience.
The goal was actually two fold. First, we needed to add a pre-post assessment measure that would provide our accreditors and us with valid aggregate data on our students’ spiritual development while at seminary. It informed institutional decision-making and continuous quality enhancement. Second, we wanted a practical and meaningful assessment measure that students could use in a common core class to inform the creation of a personal “rule of life” or spiritual development plan.
Asbury's Christian Formation Process (CFP) is designed to assess and promote spiritual formation among all students. We have three primary means of assessing whether students are growing in three (outcomes) values: Loving Community, Loving Transformation, and Loving Mission.
We use the STI as a pre and post measure of relational spirituality. We administer it to all entering and exiting students at Asbury as “book ends” for their Asbury Experience. In addition, we evaluate students at three intermediate points using short qualitative assessments in which students describe their current formation with regard to the three core values. These are paired with faculty ratings gathered on these same outcomes at those three intermediate points. We also conduct faculty and student focus groups to fill out our knowledge of the formation process.
We use all five STI "Connecting" domains to assess our three core values as shown below:
• Connecting to Spiritual Community
• Connecting to Others
• Connecting to God
• Connecting to Spiritual Practices
• Connecting to God's Kingdom
The STI group reports allow us to increase awareness among Asbury stakeholders about the spiritual experience of current students. We have a snapshot of our entering students and our exiting students, providing not only a look at those who are starting and those who are finishing, but their growth across time. It informs curricular and co-curricular discussions for administrators, faculty, and staff.
Entering students takes their STI results into an introductory class on the Vocation of Ministry. They are able to use their interpretation/report to construct their first "rule of life" for their seminary experience. They have the option of selecting "soul projects" from their report for their "rule." Their "rule of life" is discussed in class and also in three conversations with their faculty guide.
In one of my own classes, students submit an early paper on what they have learned from the STI about their relational and spiritual attributes. They then pick a “soul project” and write a concluding paper about their experience at the end of the semester. I have found the experience to be particularly formative for my students. The STI is pivotal in providing an objective foundation upon which they can build a strategic and relevant growth plan.