Assessment Movement

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One of the great dangers for true education.


The dangers of over-extending the assessment view of education are well explained at

"The goal of the Assessment Movement is to press on and extend "Assessment" to the College Classroom.

What does this mean?

First, courses must be broken down into specific goals and objectives that were created over 50 years ago]. Despite extensive research over the last 50 years there is still significant controversy over the appropriateness and meaning of these goals and uncertainty as to how best to measure them. When these goals and objective are framed they must be framed in measurable outcomes. That means your goal cannot be to "understand the difference between the positivist and verstehen approach to sociology", rather you goal must be "be able to apply the positivist and verstehen approach to contemporary social problems." In other words, you cannot teach for "understanding" you must teach for and to the ability to acquire a specific, concrete, operationalizable and quantifiable "skill."

Second, courses must have standard, normed tests that specifically test the completion of the goals and objectives. Salaries, promotions, contract renewals and tenure will be tied to how well your students do on these standardized normed tests. Thus, college professors will be forced to teach to the test and to adopt classroom teaching techniques and materials that are geared towards these goals and objectives.

The end result will be a standardized, McDonald’s version of higher education. Everybody will get the same "Big Mac" Intro to Sociology Course. Writing, clear reasoning and critical thinking will be de-emphasized and where taught, evaluated by rubrics and also "quantified".

How close are we to this? We are much, much closer than most of us think or realize. While there is currently debate over the Spelling’s Report the fact of the matter is that a number of trends are already compelling universities to move down this road with surprising speed. If your accreditation agency is North Central Assocation of Schools and Colleges then your institution is already under enormous pressure to join A TQM-CI program for higher ed. And of course, once your institution joins AQIP then everything else must follow the goals, objectives and methods of AQIP. AQIP implies and pushes you in the direction of "No Child Left Behind" applied to higher education as well as a starkly corporate model starkly coporate model]. If you do not join AQIP you must increasingly use that model anyway. Second, since most of this is already being pushed at administrative conferences (by administrators) and by "assessment conferences" where members of assessment committees are sent with scarce travel money to learn how to assess. These are not normal conferences where work is subject to scientific scrutiny but groupthink sessions that explain to people the nuts and bolts of how to implement standardized goals and assessment techniques. Once the process starts debate is limited or even shut down through various tactics.

If you are against assessment then you are "against change". You obviously "don’t care" about teaching. You must be against "accountability." There is never debate on what these words and terms mean or how they will be applied or who will be "accountable" to whom.

Who is Behind the Assessment movement in Higher Education?

The very same people (mostly) who are pushing "No Child Left Behind" are behind this movement with the exception that the group includes College and University administrators and faculty. Since Colleges tend to be liberal places at least on the surface, the movement is often presented with a progressive face. Perhaps it is sold as "being accountable to the public" or being "anti-elitist" or as "promoting democracy and opportunity." But behind the rhetoric lurks a very deep seated effort to turn Colleges and Universities into corporate training centers. The "Client" is in fact, not the student, bur rather, the employer. Your goal as a teacher is to deliver to the employer, at low cost and in as efficient a fashion a standardized "product" defined by a set of skills, knowledges and abilities that comes with a number attached. In short, there is nothing democratic, progressive, liberal or feminist about this movement. This does not unfortunately stop some liberal, progressive or feminist people from being coopted and taken in by the assessment movement and thus being manipulated to push a right wing corporate agenda in academia.

One wonders why there is this movement at all. It is not successful. It does not even really accomplish the goal of delivering better "product" to employers. It does not make learning more fun, enjoyable or exciting. It does nothing to enhance teaching. It has not even succeeded at the K-12 level where to a limited degree reasonable people might accept the necessity of some aspects of the assessment movement. The only explanation I can find for the vigor, intolerance and aggressiveness of the assessment movement is that it hates freedom. It hates the fact that I have a job where I can wake up in the morning and decide to teach in my blue jearns. It hates the fact that I can discuss the enormous costs of the drug war in my class-whether it is microeconomics or introduction to sociology. It hates the fact that I teach my students that critical thinking applies to many areas-including the abuse of corporate power. It hates the fact that I have tenure and that I can speak my mind on a college campus. It hates the fact that if told to teach to the test I can file a grievance. It hates the fact that I am a relatively autonomous professional who can exercise independent judgement in deciding how to teach and assess my class." (