Post-secondary education has become more critical than ever in these economic times. In fact, with the reduction of blue-collarjobs, attaining a bachelor’s degree is akin to the receiving a high school diploma of several decades ago. Furthermore, the astronomical cost of attaining an undergraduate degree calls for accountability. What actual skills does a college student obtain after four years? What is the added value of a college diploma? The economics of higher education has resulted in the implementation of standardized testing at the college level. How can anyone quantify the learning that occurs across vastly different curricula and institutions?
A recent article in the New York Times reports, “In January, the New Leadership Alliance released guidelines calling on colleges to systematically ‘gather evidence of student learning’ — though not explicitly advocating standardized tests — and
release the results. The report was endorsed by several major organizations of
colleges and universities.”
Ranking of colleges has been nebulous, at best. The most
well-known publication for judging a university’s standing has appeared
annually in US News and World Report. According to the Times
article, it includes the following criteria: “Up to 40 percent of a college’s
score is based on its reputation among educators and its selectivity in
admitting students. Other factors include several indirect indicators of what
happens in classrooms, like student retention, graduation rates and class
sizes, but no direct measures of learning.” Some college officials maintain
that testing areas that are easily measureable is misleading because the skills
that students gain in college often take years or decades to observe.
Rather than testing, many colleges prefer to participate in surveys
such as the National Survey of Student Engagement, which measures such factors
as number of study hours per week and the ability to interact with professors. Nevertheless, approximately 1,000 colleges and universities are
utilizing exams devised by ETS (makers of the SAT) or ACT to measure the accomplishment of their graduates. These tests are still under development, so they remain controversial. The era of testing continues to unfold.
The practice of standardized testing to check the effectiveness has reached to the college and university levels. What is the best way to assess an educational institution's efficacy?