The No Child Left Behind Act is coming up in Congress for reauthorization, and colleges might soon be under its watchful eye. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings wants colleges to be transparent about student success.
In a report commissioned by Spellings, a committee recommended that student success should be measured and made available to consumers and policymakers in order to best assess the effectiveness of an institution. At the moment, policymakers are relying on reputations and rankings to make important decisions.
Dr. Peter Jones, the vice-provost for undergraduate studies, said assessments of students’ success is the way of the future. Jones said higher education is moving in the direction of student assessment.
“One of the things that the university is doing right now is taking very seriously the issue of how we are going to be able to measure and assess progress made by our students as they move through their four- or five-year programs,” Jones said.
The most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy revealed that the number of college graduates proficient in prose literacy decreased from 40 percent to 31 percent in the past 10 years.
Jones said Temple is being proactive and identifying potential problems, such as students who may be struggling. Rather than waiting for the student to fail and then digging them out of the hole, Jones said it is important to identify in advance where there may be problems and develop programs that can intervene.
Some schools are looking to test whether or not the programs they’ve developed are serving their students. The National Survey of Student Engagement is an assessment that measures student engagement to determine the value of the undergraduate experience at an institution.
The NSSE creates benchmarks so colleges and universities can be compared to one another. According to the NSSE Web site, 53 higher education institutions in Pennsylvania utilize the survey, including Drexel University, Lock Haven University and Swarthmore College.
The Collegiate Learning Assessment has also become a popular way to measure success. The test, which is administered to freshman and seniors, evaluates critical thinking, analytic reasoning and written communication.
The CLA measures students instead of institutions. It compares how each school contributes to a students learning. According to the CLA Web site, 210 higher education institutions use the assessment. The Web site states that 11 schools in Pennsylvania use the CLA, including Allegheny College and Juniata College.
Jones said many universities don’t feel the CLA is the appropriate way to assess students success and that there are other options. The jury is out on the CLA at Temple, Jones said.
Last semester, Temple tested the CLA on 200 freshman and 200 seniors to see how disruptive it was to classes and whether or not it offered valuable information. Jones said a benefit of the CLA is that you can make comparisons against other schools.
“There are a number of faculty [members] who feel that it is an inappropriate measure of what we’re trying to measure. They are not against the idea of assessment and measure, they’re just not sure if that’s the appropriate way to do it,” Jones said.
Traditionally, the only assessment Temple has ever had is placement tests for incoming students and then a small subset of graduating seniors who take exit exams such as the MCAT’s and the GRE.
Jones said Temple has committees looking at how to develop assessment tools for the university. He also said that embedded assessment, instead of specialized tests will be used to measure student success. Information from grades as students move through Temple can be used as a measurement tool.
LeAnne Matlach can be reached at email@example.com.