Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Testing, testing, 1,2,3....

This week I want to direct your attention to a disconcerting book just being published, with some main points summarized at Inside Higher Ed.

Many people have been worried that the emphasis on "accountability" in colleges and universities would lead to the universally required adoption of some high stakes tests, similar to the pattern in K-12 from "No Child Left Behind." Members of the faculty Learning Assessment Council, as part of our first year of inquiry (2008-9), investigated the different tests, and organizations that created and administer the tests, that are most used for this purpose. One in particular, the CLA (College Learning Assessment), looks poised to win the testing wars. It has been adopted by all universities in the California and Texas Higher Ed system, and is administered at Lewis and Clark (closest to home.) The test also comes close to the vision of the original Spellings Commission -- to provide a meaningful way to compare the results of one institution to another. The results are bench-marked based on information about the institution, its student population, and other demographics. This test has a pre- and post design. A sample of in-coming students are tested, and then a sample of students leaving with degrees. The difference is the "value added" by the college experience

The report in Inside Higher Ed uses results of the CLA to look generally at how Higher Ed is doing in value added (which they say is not very good), and then to try to isolate what characteristics in a student's experience account for the best gains.

There is lots to think about -- not just in the results of the study, but in the methodology. The CLA looks to me to be the best of the tests out there (it is the only one that uses essay answers, instead of multiple choice or T/F.) But is it good enough to be used in this way -- to tell how colleges and universities are doing on their core mission?

At the council's recommendation, PCC did not adopt the version of the CLA created for community colleges. We thought meaningful assessment -- useful for program improvement -- needed to be closer to the people who matter, the instructors. But if the CLA continues to be widely adopted, and used in ways like this study, there may come a time when we will have to use it. Either it will be mandated (!!) or its use will be so standard that it would hurt us to opt out. Either way, the CLA and its uses is an important piece of the assessment story in colleges and universities.

chair, faculty Learning Assessment Council 2010-11

1 comment:

  1. I have teens who are beginning the whirlwind of assessment batteries that will apparently show they are ready for college - and for life (PSAT, SAT, ACT, ASVAB, etc).

    Just wondering: Why is this kind of assessment - before students enter university - embraced so universally in the US, but any assessment afterwards is viewed as a threat? Is it b/c of the way test scores are used? Seems as though universities use an expansive view of standardized-test results during admissions ("Your SAT score is just one aspect of a larger picture"), but in other segments of society, high-stakes tests are used to "hold institutions accountable" (see the NCLB legislation passed during the Bush presidency). Seems to me that the use of the data is the key.