More misguided metrics – this time it’s “learning outcomes” assessment

UNC History Professor Molly Worthen in the NYT on learning outcomes assessment:

I teach at a big state university, and I often receive emails from software companies offering to help me do a basic part of my job: figuring out what my students have learned.

If you thought this task required only low-tech materials like a pile of final exams and a red pen, you’re stuck in the 20th century. In 2018, more and more university administrators want campuswide, quantifiable data that reveal what skills students are learning. Their desire has fed a bureaucratic behemoth known as learning outcomes assessment. This elaborate, expensive, supposedly data-driven analysis seeks to translate the subtleties of the classroom into PowerPoint slides packed with statistics — in the hope of deflecting the charge that students pay too much for degrees that mean too little.

It’s true that old-fashioned course grades, skewed by grade inflation and inconsistency among schools and disciplines, can’t tell us everything about what students have learned. But the ballooning assessment industry — including the tech companies and consulting firms that profit from assessment — is a symptom of higher education’s crisis, not a solution to it. …

No intellectual characteristic is too ineffable for assessment. Some schools use lengthy surveys like the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory, which claims to test for qualities like “truthseeking” and “analyticity.” The Global Perspective Inventory, administered and sold by Iowa State University, asks students to rate their agreement with statements like “I do not feel threatened emotionally when presented with multiple perspectives” and scores them on metrics like the “intrapersonal affect scale.” …

UO’s federal accreditor is the not very transparent Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). Their website has a message from their interim president:

I am writing to thank you for your participation in and support of the activities we initiated last November to gather information from you about how NWCCU can better achieve its mission of assuring educational quality, enhancing institutional effectiveness, and fostering continuous improvement. Your response to the survey and participation in the Annual Meeting and Town Halls guided development of a report from the Task Force on Renewal of Recognition that was accepted by the Board of Commissioners at its January 2018 meeting.

One of the most consistent recommendations received was that we improve communication with the member institutions. This message is part of a larger communication strategy that we are implementing to move forward on the recommendations of the Task Force.

Speaking of communication, good luck trying to find the Task Force report on their website.

UO’s website at documents the years of work faculty and administrators have spent on this assessment crap on orders from the NWCCU. More is coming.

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One Response to More misguided metrics – this time it’s “learning outcomes” assessment

  1. Birdy says:

    “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?” — G.W. Bush

    “Every act hath some falsehood of exaggeration in it. And when now and then comes along some sad, sharp-eyed man, who sees how paltry a game is played, and refuses to play, but blabs the secret; — how then? is the bird flown? Oh no, the wary Nature sends a new troop of fairer forms, of lordlier youths, with a little more excess of direction to hold them fast to their several aim; makes them a little wrong-headed in that direction in which they are rightest, and on goes the game again with new whirl…” — R.W. Emerson

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