Friday, March 2, 2018

Molly Worthen on assessment

In The New York Times, Molly Worthen writes about assessment in higher education:

It’s true that old-fashioned course grades, skewed by grade inflation and inconsistency among schools and disciplines, can’t tell us everything about what students have learned. But the ballooning assessment industry — including the tech companies and consulting firms that profit from assessment — is a symptom of higher education’s crisis, not a solution to it. It preys especially on less prestigious schools and contributes to the system’s deepening divide into a narrow tier of elite institutions primarily serving the rich and a vast landscape of glorified trade schools for everyone else. . . .

It seems that the pressure to assess student learning outcomes has grown most quickly at poorly funded regional universities that have absorbed a large proportion of financially disadvantaged students, where profound deficits in preparation and resources hamper achievement.
Well, yes. At my poorly funded regional university, assessment fever rages. In my final year of teaching, faculty were directed to include a course-catalogue description and a list of thirty “University Learning Outcomes” in every syllabus — about 480 words of extra content. I managed that with a single-spaced page in 9-point type.

Worthen quotes a British academic, Frank Furedi, whose words apply to any number of American colleges:
“When kids come from backgrounds where they’re the first in their families to go to college, we have to take them seriously, and not flatter them and give them third-rate ideas. They need to be challenged and inspired by the idea of our disciplines. One of the horrible things is that many universities think that giving access to nontraditional students means turning a university into a high school. That’s not giving them access to higher education.”
See also this post on higher education as a two-tier system: “A fully realized adult person.”

[Thanks to Matt Thomas, without whom I would have missed this Times piece. I’ve put two separate comments from Furedi together for ease of reading.]

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