The Case for Standardized Assessments

As it currently stands, noted deBoer, there’s a lack of assessment data outside of news media reports, like U.S. News’, which tend to “perpetuate the elite.”

“Right now, you have universities, like Harvard, who are able to skim off top student performers from high school and actually have no data on undergraduate student performance. So why are they consistently rated as one of the best institutions? That’s like being able to pick anyone you want, picking all the tall kids for your team, then bragging about how your team is taller than everyone else’s. Assessments are really an issue about social justice,” he said.

Instead of arbitrary lists based on non-performance metrics, deBoer suggests the new assessments account for diverse student populations and student learning over time.

He also says that implementing standardized assessments doesn’t have to be about the “false choice” faculty often think they have to make.

“The false choice is thinking that you have to choose between invasive, teach-to-the-test, 24/7 testing or nothing at all. I believe that there can be minimally-invasive assessments, especially since higher ed can use the power of inferential statistics! We can have samples of students take the test and don’t need every student to take the test all the time,” explained deBoer.

Suggestions for Better Assessments

Currently, argues deBoer, many assessments are ad-hoc, lacking in validity and credibility, and aren’t compared to cross-campus metrics. In his recently published brief, he recommends that:

  1. Standardized tests of collegiate learning must be subject to external validation.
  2. Faculty and local administration must be welcomed into the assessment process.
  3. Assessment of college learning should take advantage of the power of inferential statistics.
  4. Standardized assessments and localized disciplinary assessments should be used in concert with student outcomes data to better understand both individual colleges and the system as a whole.
  5. Assessments cannot be no stakes, but neither should they be high stakes.

[Read more about these suggestions in the brief.]

“…in a world in which a college education has such economic and social power, we have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that our students are learning,” writes deBoer in his brief. “What’s more, with so many challenges to traditional universities, particularly in the form of online and for-profit schools, the need to demonstrate our value is greater than ever.”

He concluded, “The controversies and debates about how to undertake this work will continue. But with open dialogue and an attempt at mutual understanding, fair and effective assessment of college learning is possible. It’s time to get to work.”

About the Author:

Meris Stansbury

Meris Stansbury is the Editorial Director for both eSchool News and eCampus News, and was formerly the Managing Editor of eCampus News. Before working at eSchool Media, Meris worked as an assistant editor for The World and I, an online curriculum publication. She graduated from Kenyon College in 2006 with a BA in English, and enjoys spending way too much time either reading or cooking.


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