Saturday, January 28, 2006

Standardization of Higher Education

I came across a Memo from the Chairman” by Charles Miller, who seems to be fond of standardized testing. He’s now the Chairman of the U.S. Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, created by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

Miller is obviously of the opinion that there’s not enough oversight of higher education:

[W]e need to improve, and even fix, current accountability processes, such as accreditation, to ensure that our colleges and universities are providing the highest quality education to their students.

His solution?

Very recently, new testing instruments have been developed which measure an important set of skills to be acquired in college: critical thinking, analytic reasoning, problem solving, and written communications.


An evaluation of these new testing regimes provides evidence of a significant advancement in measuring student learning — especially in measuring the attainment of skills most needed in the future.

I’m not sure how he knows what’s going to be needed in the future. It’s not footnoted. But he lists his favorite standardized tests, including:

A multi-year trial by the Rand Corporation, which included 122 higher education institutions, led to the development of a test measuring critical thinking, analytic reasoning and other skills. As a result of these efforts, a new entity called Collegiate Learning Assessment has been formed by researchers involved and the tests will now be further developed and marketed widely.

That sounded familiar. Sure enough, he’s talking about the same standardized test I found a few days ago and wrote a post about. The article was by Richard H. Hersh, recently president of Trinity College (here’s an article about his resignation).

Hersh is now a senior fellow at the Council for Aid to Education (CAE). In the November 2005 Atlantic Monthly article I wrote about, Hersh subtitles his piece with It's time to put an end to "faith-based" acceptance of higher education's quality. He concludes that what we need is a standardized test of which he is co-director: the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA). CLA was cited in a 2001 report called Measuring Up, comparing state higher educational achievement, which laments the lack of a national measure of learning.

The president of CAE is Roger Benjamin. Here’s an article he wrote in the same vein as the Atlantic one, describing the CLA. He notes that:

Student responses can be graded by a trained reader or by a computer.

I have to comment on that. We tried out ETS’s Criterion computerized essay grader last year. It was interesting, but overly simplistic, and we decided it didn’t suit our needs. One problem with timed essays is that we try to teach students that they shouldn’t be in a hurry when they write: revise, revise, revise is the mantra. So how does that square with a timed assessment? With difficulty, I imagine.

Chairman Miller and the CLA’s Benjamin, both talked at a Columbia University press briefing on the future of higher education. Miller is listed as being associated with the Meridian National, Inc.

It seems to me that public policy is being steered toward adoption of standardized testing nationally or state-wide for higher education.

Other links:

Testimony by Miller, citing Benjamin and Hersh

Article on ‘value added assessment’ by Benjamin and Hersh in AACU’s Peer Review

Article by Benjamin from CAE about new assessment techniques.

CAE website

Hersh slams higher Education on PBS.

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