David Brooks on College Assessments!

Dear Commons Community,

In his piece today, Testing the Teachers, New York Times columnist, David Brooks, examines assessment in American colleges and universities.  He introduces the topic as:

“ There’s an atmosphere of grand fragility hanging over America’s colleges. The grandeur comes from the surging application rates, the international renown, the fancy new dining and athletic facilities. The fragility comes from the fact that colleges are charging more money, but it’s not clear how much actual benefit they are providing.”

Citing the study  Academically Adrift,  by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, which found that, on average, students experienced a seven percentile point gain in skills during their first two years in college and a marginal gain in the two years after that, Brooks launches on the need for greater accountability in American higher education.  He suggests that colleges and universities consider value-added assessments and to test more to find out how they’re doing. “Colleges and universities have to be able to provide prospective parents with data that will give them some sense of how much their students learn.” In sum, “There has to be some way to reward schools that actually do provide learning and punish schools that don’t. There has to be a better way to get data so schools themselves can figure out how they’re doing in comparison with their peers.”

I don’t agree with Brooks on this issue especially when he assumes that assessments should be developed or enforced by the U.S. Department of Education(USDOE).  Colleges and universities distrust the USDOE and the federal government involvement with assessment given their track record with high-stakes testing and No Child Left Behind(NCLB).   The USDOE assessment policies starting with NCLB fostered a testing mania that created an incredibly lucrative testing and tutoring industry all of which is focused on passing tests not necessarily on improving education.  Furthermore, American colleges and universities, prodded mostly by regional and professional accrediting agencies using peer evaluation, have paid a good deal more attention to assessment issues over the past dozen or more years.  As a result, most colleges and universities have established more authentic assessment strategies (i.e, culminating research projects) and are increasingly collecting data on their graduates.  I say leave assessment in the hands of educators and not place it in the hands of federal politicians.





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