Why traditional institutions must assess or be assessed

By Meris Stansbury
April 1st, 2016


Purdue University scholar discusses what standardized assessments for institutions may look like, what they should incorporate.

It’s a debate that’s spreading across the country: should colleges and universities have standardized assessments to measure student performance metrics? The Obama administration says yes, while most campus faculty and students say no. What should be done?

According to Fredrik deBoer, a scholar and lecturer at Purdue University, it’s only a matter of time before institutions are forced to assess student performance in a standardized way, so they might as well get ahead of the curve in order to retain control of those assessments.

“Every conversation that’s taking place about higher education today ultimately ends up around assessments,” said Kevin Carey, New America’s education policy program director, during a recent New America panel hosted in Washington, D.C.  “Whenever there’s talk about price, value, outcomes, accreditation, innovation implementation, et cetera, it always comes down to proving student learning somehow. And weirdly enough, there’s very little solid research on student learning at the individual student- and department-level.”

It’s Personal

DeBoer, himself coming from a liberal arts background, told the audience that they may be wondering why he’s researching standardized assessments. But as he related, it’s because the topic hit very close to home.

“When I was getting my doctorate from Purdue, Mitchell Daniels, Purdue’s president and former governor of Indiana, wanted to implement the CLA+ at wide-scale, from the freshman class to seniors. In fact, his slogan was ‘Education at the highest proven value.’ Faculty wondered if this was a way for Daniels to wrest control of learning from them, which is a big issue on campuses today: the de-professionalization of professorship in this country.”

What happened was that students refused to take the test, so Purdue couldn’t fill it’s required sample size, explained deBoer. The university is still going to release the results, but their validity will need work.

“It’s really a matter of assess or be assessed. If faculty say ‘no’ and refuse any kind of assessment, it will happen anyway and then they probably won’t like them. Better to get ahead of the curve and take some control in how the assessments are designed and factored,” he said.

(Next page: Why must there be assessments at all?)

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