Post-secondary education has become more critical than ever in these economic times. In fact, with the reduction of blue-collar jobs, attaining a bachelor’s degree is akin to the receiving a high school diploma of several decades ago. Furthermore, the astronomical cost of attaining an undergraduate degree calls for accountability. What actual skills does a college student obtain after four years? What is the added value of a college diploma? The economics of higher education has resulted in the implementation of standardized testing at the college level. How can anyone quantify the learning that occurs across vastly different curricula and institutions?
A recent article in the New York Times reports, “In January, the New Leadership Alliance released guidelines calling on colleges to systematically ‘gather evidence of student learning’ — though not explicitly advocating standardized tests — and release the results. The report was endorsed by several major organizations of colleges and universities”
Ranking of colleges has been nebulous, at best. The most well-known publication for judging a university’s standing has appeared annually in US News and World Report. According to the Times article, it includes the following criteria: “Up to 40 percent of a college’s score is based on its reputation among educators and its selectivity in admitting students. Other factors include several indirect indicators of what happens in classrooms, like student retention, graduation rates and class sizes, but no direct measures of learning.” Some college officials maintain that testing areas that are easily measureable is misleading because the skills that students gain in college often take years or decades to observe.
Many colleges prefer to participate in surveys such as the National Survey of Student Engagement, which measures such factors as number of study hours per week and the ability to interact with professors. Nevertheless, approximately 1,000 colleges and universities are utilizing exams devised by ETS or ACT to measure the accomplishment of their graduates. These tests are still under development, so they remain controversial. The era of testing continues to unfold.