In the not so distant past, college professors graded their students’ work (tests, papers, and things) and that was that. But then along came one of those ideas so typical of American education “experts,” namely that while grading might measure how well students had performed in the course, it didn’t necessarily measure their learning. Naturally, that opened the door to the growth of a new movement with campus bureaucrats eager to impose “learning standards.”
Erik Gilbert, professor of history at Arkansas State University, discusses the growth of the Assessment Movement in this Martin Center article.
He used to simply grade his students back when he started teaching in the ’90s, but, he writes,
In the assessment era, however, this is considered insufficient. For about a decade now, university assessment directors, who are often ex officio members of curriculum committees (even though few of them are faculty members), have been instructing professors to develop program- and course-level statements called Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). Typically, professors have three or more of these per program or course.
Ah yes — the inevitable educationist acronym. SLOs must be concrete and measurable to satisfy the assessment functionaries. For example: “Compose an essay that distinguishes between the nature of European Imperialism before and after 1850.” “Distinguish between primary and secondary source material.”
The problem is that the assessment bureaucracies have grown in size and power, meddling in the curriculum and adding to the cost of college. If this improved education for the students, maybe it would be worth it — but there’s no evidence at all that “assessment” is beneficial. “Amazingly,” Gilbert writes, “there is no evidence that learning outcomes assessment has improved student learning or led to any improvement in what universities do.”
Most schools now have noisy “assessment” officials who are terribly interested in protecting their jobs, but who can’t point to proof that they add any value.
In the higher-ed reform that I think is coming, colleges will have to shed unnecessary costs. The assessment functionaries ought to be among the first to go.