Friday, April 22, 2005

Bummer: Course Based Assessment Not Dead

A little over two months ago, we reported that “course based assessment” – the process in which each instructor has to collect data to “assess” a bunch of educational “outcomes” – is dead.

This was based on an interview with Peggy Bloom, assessment honcho in the Provost’s office. Bloom was clear and unequivocal about that, both in her discussions with us, and with some members of the Political Science Department.

In the view of Prof. Nancy Snow, Director of Core Curriculum, course-based assessment “in some form” will remain.

There is some sentiment that, where all the “objectives” in the core must be achieved by one course (the core requires only one social science course, for example), that course must be “assessed.” Since students can take any of dozens of social science courses to fulfill the requirement, each of them would have to be “assessed.”

Much will depend on who is recruited to be the Director of the Common Core.

The notion of course based assessment seems to fly in the face of the explicit directions of the North Central Association, which said:
Assessment of the Core Curriculum, as well as assessment of undergraduate and graduate majors will be expected by the Higher Learning Commission. It is suggested that the focus be switched from extensive course assessment to a focus on the nine knowledge areas. This could involve comparing entering freshmen performance to that of juniors who have completed the core. There are standardized tests that could be used for this purpose. (“Advancement Section, Report of a Comprehensive Evaluation Visit,” p. 29)
How course based assessment could still be alive in the face both of fierce faculty opposition and the explicit directions of the North Central is a mystery.

Why anybody would want an assessment of dozens of individual courses when the (say) social science part of the assessment could be done as part of a broader process applying to all students is another mystery.

At least, a mystery to ordinary sensible folk. But not necessarily a mystery to social scientists who study bureaucracies.

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