The Measure of Learning
Can you test what colleges teach? Academics are appalled that the government wants to try
Acting now. Some schools are already taking the hint. The University of North Carolina recently announced that it was considering requiring the Collegiate Learning Assessment. The Kentucky and Wisconsin governments require that state schools prove learning outcomes. In Texas, in addition to the testing it already mandates, Gov. Rick Perry has proposed a college exit exam. The Arizona State University system has moved to give individual deans more power to require learning assessments. And businesses are lining up to provide the tools to do it. "Employers, governments, and parents want to know what they are paying for," says Catherine Burdt of the educational research firm Eduventures. As the college going population includes more part-time and older students, studies show, the demand for measuring learning outcomes will only increase.
In a few weeks, colleges will hear how Spellings intends to move forward. Colleges, meanwhile, continue to search for that elusive value-added measure, which, however flawed, can lead to better teaching.
"We should not be afraid of a culture of self-scrutiny on campus, but only the faculty can create a culture of learning," says Bok, who is wary of a federally imposed solution. "Those who say it's impossible to quantify a college education are not being honest or they are dissembling. All the things you learn can't be counted, but some can. We need to get more schools interested in examining their own successes and shortcomings."
That might be something Spellings could supportprovided that the colleges publish the results.