Assessment At The University

We have often made the point that we, the faculty, are our own worst enemies in making us look bad in public.  Usually, we can blame it on the left but the right is not immune at George Leef proves at the NRO Corner:

In the not so distant past, college professors graded their students’ work (tests, papers, and things) and that was that. But then along came one of those ideas so typical of American education “experts,” namely that while grading might measure how well students had performed in the course, it didn’t necessarily measure their learning. Naturally, that opened the door to the growth of a new movement with campus bureaucrats eager to impose “learning standards.”

George approvingly quotes an article by Erik Gilbert at the Marin Center that starts off with this:

Universities have been assessing students by grading their work since the Middle Ages.  Sometimes students complained that the professor wasn’t fair, but nobody thought the system was fundamentally flawed.

We quoted both George and Erik to make it clear that they are fundamentally opposed to assessment from a conservative view point.  It is Colbert Conservatism and should be roundly mocked.  The difference between inputs and outputs is not nearly as complex as Arthur Thomas and arbitrary allocations.  It should be obvious to everyone that learning is different from teaching.

Sidebar One: There is a real issue of who assesses that both George and Erik mention but, as the quotes show, they are against assessment and the who problem is a just a by-product.  Part of the problem of who assesses is that some faculty members refuse to assess. It is amazing that academics, people who think for a living, can’t distinguish between inputs and output.  Why are they not interested in evidence of the outcomes of their teaching?  End Sidebar One.

Sidebar Two: Many of them also distrust student evaluation of instruction or SEI.  SEI scores, like assessment, are evidence of what goes on in the classroom.  Many faculty members seem to be evidence averse to what goes on in the classroom.  When confronted with the evidence like, “In our department SEI scores are unrelated to grades,” they will continue to believe the opposite.  End Sidebar Two.

Where George and Erik go wrong is that faculty use grades to assess overall learning.  Universities are now, correctly, being held to higher standards.  We expect the school to investigate if students are learning.  We expect that the faculty have a strategy for getting students to learn and that they evaluate its effectiveness.

Sidebar Three: For an extreme example, there were three tests and all students got 98 percent on the first and third tests and 44 percent on the second test for a nice B minus average of 80 percent.  Do you think all students have a B minus knowledge of the course material?  End Sidebar Three.

For a real example, we had a research oriented faculty member that had students write a 30 page research paper.  Did it prepare our students for the type of writing assignment they would get in the accounting profession?  It influenced their writing skills but, unless they went to grad school, they would never write anything like it ever again.  What it did, however, was to improve their research skills with various data bases and that they would need again.  There were excellent outcomes that the department supported but they were not exactly what the faculty member envisioned.  It is difficult but we should all be evidence driven in our teaching.

There are serious questions about who should assess but assessment is something that conservatives should insist on.  We want to know what students are expected to learn and if they are learning it.  Every faculty member should support assessment and that will reduce the overhead.



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