Focus on Learning: Why Assessment Matters

October 11, 2010

Yesterday, the Chronicle of Higher Education posted a piece by Kevin Carey, Policy Director at Education Sector, an independent education think tank, entitled “Without Assessment, Great Teaching Stays Secret.”

The focus of the piece is on University of Baltimore-Maryland County (UMBC) and its remarkable president Freeman Hrabowski.  Carey describes UMBC as “up-and-coming,” but what really catches my attention is this sentence: “the most radical thing about UMBC is that it appears to have substantially organized itself around the task of helping students learn.”

Carey goes on to wonder whether UMBC hasn’t already arrived, whether it already is delivering excellent learning for its students.  How would we know?  We wouldn’t, notes Carey, if we do not assess whether students are learning and also make those results available to the public.

Money quote: “Without a good measuring stick, great public universities” [or colleges, I’ll add] “can’t prove their greatness. In the long run, that means we’ll have fewer great public universities than we need. That shortage won’t matter much to the institutions that control the existing higher-education power structure, or to the small number of privileged students who are allowed to attend them (that is, the groups that have the most to lose from shifting the terms of prestige toward learning). But it will be a slow-motion calamity for everyone else.”

Aren’t we in the midst of that slow-motion calamity today?

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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