The Spellings Commission Backs Off
To the Faculty Newsletter:
I read with interest Professor Jonathan King’s article on the Spellings Commission and the issue of standardized testing. I’ve been following the Spellings Commission – and the fallout – closely as one of the main functions of the Teaching and Learning Laboratory is to help faculty assess the effectiveness of their pedagogical and curricular innovations (without the use of standardized tests, however). My sense is that Secretary Spellings has backed off from the concept of standardized tests. For example, the Chronicle of Higher Education (2/1/08) quoted her in a speech to the National Press Club in December as saying, “All colleges should be allowed to describe their own unique missions" and be judged against that. She went on to say, "That is totally within the jurisdiction of each institution.”
Dean Daniel Hastings, along with staff members in the Dean for Undergraduate Education’s office and the Office of Institutional Research, has been involved in the assessment issue both as it affects MIT and nationally. For example, Dean Hastings was MIT’s representative to a task force of the National Association of Land Grant Universities and Colleges (NASLGUC), which created the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA). A university that agrees to abide by the VSA, among other things, is required to administer one of three standardized tests. We advised Dean Hastings not to agree to the VSA because of the requirement to use a standardized test. In addition, Dean Hastings is the chair of a Consortium on Financing in Higher Education (COFHE) working group that is writing a white paper on assessment.
With that said, we have agreed to participate in an experiment to administer the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) to a small number of our students as part of a FIPSE (Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education) research project to see what data the CLA generates. We have also consented to pilot two new instruments being developed by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) that are similar to the National Survey of Student Engagement, but specifically for engineering students. (The NAE would also like us to pilot a faculty version.) However, we will not agree to any content-based standardized tests for the reasons Professor King mentions in his article.
I hope this provides the readers of the Faculty Newsletter with additional information on the issue of standardized testing and assessment.