Thursday, February 09, 2006

Nationwide standardized tests at college?

I must say, I'm glad I'm graduating college when I am. For one, financial aid has been cut and interest rates raised in the recent Bush budget. Now, a commission appointed by the Secretary of Education wants college students to be subjected to a nationwide standardized test. As if we don't have enough tests already. This is all in an effort to require "more accountability from higher education." In today's Republican climes, everything must be held accountable except Republicans in Congress, the White House, and their friends in the private sector.

A nationwide standardized test is a strange way to demand accountability. For one, it goes against the whole university system, which directs students to become specialized in an area or two. Writing and reasoning skills are of course taught in all areas of study, but these are tested enough through college midterms and finals.

If the administration wants to improve higher education, they need to first figure out what they want to improve about it. Rather than sit in their offices in D.C. and talk about the need for "accountability," they should go on a fact-finding mission to a cross-section of colleges--public, private, community. I fear though that in today's climate of sham "academic freedom" bills, even that process would be politicized.

The people on the higher education commission are worried about literacy and under-performance from college graduates, but these are skills that are learned well before college. We need to re-invest in public schools in this country, where children internalize the skills that they will keep with them for the rest of their academic careers. Enough with commissions and standardized testing.


bowlcutboy said...

Outcomes-assessment has become a big thing in educational theory and is not just a Republican politcal baton to beat up colleges and universities.

Many compositionists--especially on the developmental and freshman comp. level--are looking to use entrance/exit writing test/sample comparisons to bolster thier own standing in the university.

Profs. in the humanities, especially in writing/English departments, where the core/required writing courses are based, feel that they are not taken as seriously as profs. in other departments. Using entrance/exit tests allows them to conduct research, however subjective, and report back on their findings:

1) either students' writing improves and writing profs. deserve better pay (they often earn less than profs. in the ciences) and respect (writing profs' trips to conferences and other professional development expenses are not covered to the same degree as profs in the sciences) as a result

2) or students' writing stays the same or becomes worse abecause the writing programs and the writing profs. are overworked, underpayed, underappreciated, and not respected.

At large universities, almost all of the developmental/required freshman comp. classes are taught by TAs. And many writing TAs have twice the course load with half the pay of TAs in the sciences. There's a whole labor/respect thing going on here...

Elaine said...

Thank you for your interesting comment. I just want to clarify that I am not saying that measuring results or an end product are inherently bad, but I am saying that when it comes to increasing quality of education "front-loading" or starting pupils off well when they are young will save a lot of money down the road rather than always searching for accountability after those pupils have gone through a bad education system.

Also, while I see similariites in what you and I are talking about, I also see a difference. At issue in your scenario is the need to measure professors by using results-oriented tests to quantify their value as teachers, whereas I am dealing with a news story that discusses measuring student performance by what looks to be a sweeping remedy: unprecedented nationwide standardized tests at institutions of higher learning.