Trying to Find a Measure for How Well Colleges Do

This NY Times article focuses on the pressure to quantify collegiate academic quality (but not so much on the motivating factors behind it):

“There’s a real shift in attitudes under way,” said David C. Paris, executive director of the New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability, a coalition of higher education groups. “We used to hear a lot more of, ‘The value of college can’t be measured,’ and now we hear more of, ‘Let’s talk about how we can measure.’ ”

…the view from state-supported colleges has been shaped in part by pressure from policy makers to show what taxpayer dollars are accomplishing, through standardized tests. Texas, a leader in the movement, has required its state colleges to administer tests since 2004, and it makes the outcomes public.

Testing advocates have also gained ammunition from books calling into question the quality of American colleges, notably “Academically Adrift,” by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, published last year. It was based on a study showing that more than one-third of students show no significant gain in critical thinking skills after four years of college.

But the concept of universal assessment got its biggest boost in 2006, from the findings of a commission appointed by Margaret Spellings, then the education secretary. The report said that learning “must be measured by institutions on a ‘value added’ basis that takes into account students’ academic baseline,” and that the results must be made available to everyone “to measure the relative effectiveness of different colleges and universities.”

That prompted talk that the federal government might mandate standardized testing, as it did for public schools with No Child Left Behind in 2001.

“That’s what gave this issue urgency,” said Christine M. Keller, executive director of the Voluntary System of Accountability, an alliance of more than 300 state colleges that was created in response to the Spellings Commission. “No one wanted the government imposing a standard.”

Trying to Find a Measure for How Well Colleges Do – NY Times

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