The senior director for research and assessment of the Association of American Colleges and Universities indignantly defends her chosen profession against the disparaging critique published in the New York Times last Sunday.
“What Assessment Is Really About”
Kate Drezek McConnell, Inside Higher Ed, March 1, 2018
It turns out that the flagship product of her fifteen years' work in college-level assessment is a collection of sixteen “rubrics,” tendentiously entitled VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education).
For the uninitiated, rubrics are simply an explicit articulation of (1) faculty expectations of students vis-à-vis their learning, as well as (2) descriptions of what student work looks like at progressively higher levels of performance.
That is to say, a rubric is a learning objective together with a sequence of descriptions of observable student behaviors that supposedly characterize levels of performance on that learning objective. The levels are helpfully numbered from 1 to 4 (with an additional option, numbered 0, to represent failure to achieve even “baseline” performance) so that any one student's levels of performance on the various elements of, say, the “critical thinking” rubric, can be readily added together to obtain a critical-thinking score, which in turn can then be compared to other students' critical-thinking scores and to the same student's critical-thinking scores at earlier and later times, and so on. VALUE currently comprises sixteen of these rubrics, and I imagine that the next step would be to add together a student's scores on all sixteen to obtain a clear, objective measurement of … well, of something … I'll let Drezek McConnell explain:
Philosophically, pedagogically, and methodologically, VALUE is designed to afford faculty the opportunity to flex their creative muscles and capture evidence that the curriculum they own and the courses they teach do indeed promote students' development of the very learning outcomes that are essential to a liberal, and liberating, education.
Far from a reductionist tool, research has demonstrated that the VALUE rubrics empower faculty members to help translate the learning that takes place when a student completes an assignment they crafted, one that aligns with and promotes disciplinary knowledge, and — at its best — gives students not just the requisite skills for the single assignment, but also advances the ultimate purpose of college teaching: long-term retention of knowledge, skills and abilities and the ability to transfer those skills to a completely new or novel situation.
Ah, yes. Rubrics empower me to help translate what my students actually say and do into … what? Into a number, of course. No way that this process would convert me into a reductionist tool! Research has demonstrated that it advances the ultimate purpose of college teaching!
“The Misguided Drive to Measure ‘Learning Outcomes’”
Molly Worthen, The New York Times Sunday Review, February 23, 2018
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. It preys especially on less prestigious schools and contributes to the system's deepening divide into a narrow tier of elite institutions primarily serving the rich and a vast landscape of glorified trade schools for everyone else. …
The obsession with testing that dominates primary education invaded universities, bringing with it a large support staff. Here is the first irony of learning assessment: Faced with outrage over the high cost of higher education, universities responded by encouraging expensive administrative bloat. …
If we describe college courses as mainly delivery mechanisms for skills to please a future employer, if we imply that history, literature and linguistics are more or less interchangeable “content” that convey the same mental tools, we oversimplify the intellectual complexity that makes a university education worthwhile in the first place. We end up using the language of the capitalist marketplace and speak to our students as customers rather than fellow thinkers. They deserve better.