Though resources such as graduation rates and standardized test scores are often used by prospective college students to evaluate an institution’s offerings, before-and-after learning measurements might be more effective, according to new research.

A test of this learning, such as a test to measure students’ writing skills during four years of college, should be used by all colleges and universities, according to a researcher at Rice University.

The researcher found that Rice undergraduates’ writing skills improved 7 percent over their college years, and college-ranking websites could help prospective students narrow their college search by providing information on how students improve skills such as writing during their education at various schools.

The 7 percent improvement during the four-year college span that researchers found over a nine-year study period was based on measurements of Rice undergraduates’ expository and persuasive writing skills.

The study is highlighted in the article “Improvement of Writing Skills During College: A Multiyear Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Study of Undergraduate Writing Performance,” which appeared in a recent edition of Assessing Writing.

“Colleges and universities seldom perform such before-and-after comparisons to see how much — or whether — students improve over their college years,” said James Pomerantz, a professor of psychology at Rice and a co-author of the study. “If you scour the web looking for information about how well students progress while pursuing degrees at America’s colleges, you will be hard-pressed to find a single school that provides this information.”

(Next page: Could institutions apply this method to assess improvement of other skills?)


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