Standardized testing in college is possible

Rachel Abbey

The federal government wants a transparent way to measure the performance of college-educated students. One possibility: standardized testing.

The Commission on the Future of Higher Education, directed by the Secretary of Education, has been looking at ways to make sure students are prepared for the work force. According to a transcript from the commission’s Feb. 2 meeting, Chairman Charles Miller discussed the possibility of testing students in areas such as critical thinking, problem solving, written communications and reasoning skills.

Currently, there is no way for students to measure the effectiveness of universities or for employers to know what skills a student learned, he said.

“These types of tests haven’t been proven very successful,” said David Creamer, vice president for administration.

With high school proficiency tests, he said, many teachers began trying to improve test scores, rather than educating students.

“Standardized tests are just one piece of information,” Creamer said.

They can measure success in some areas but are not an overall representative of quality, he said.

“Success may not be a score on a test,” President Carol Cartwright said. “It may be getting an individual to attend college.”

States already have standards, Cartwright said, but the federal government has typically stayed out of the process. It would be hard to find a common assessment for all universities and colleges.

This would give the government a larger role in higher education than it currently has.

“Historically, the federal government’s role in higher education has been to support students through the GI Bill, Pell grants, other forms of financial aid,” Cartwright said, “and to support research.”

Accreditation of programs is one way states can keep track of quality, she said. This process includes peer review and self evaluation.

Some federal standards, such as those for federal financial aid, already exist, Cartwright said.

The commission will make recommendations to the U. S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings by Aug. 1, Samara Yudof, deputy press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, said in an e-mail. Nothing has been declared yet.

The commission has held three meetings and a public hearing across the country, Yudof said in the e-mail, and plans to hold more in the coming months. The commission is focusing on the issues of accountability, accessibility, affordability and quality in higher education.

Contact administration reporter Rachel Abbey at [email protected].