Even though the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation acknowledged that the Common Core State Standards and related assessments have not accomplished what they had hoped they are bringing the standards, assessments and accountability movement to higher education.
The Gates Foundation is funding a project that seeks to develop learning outcomes/standards for core academic disciplines in college and assessments to go with them.
Inside Higher Ed published a piece entitled “A Plan to Define and Test What Students Should Know.”
Paul Fain, the author, writes about a new book called Improving Quality in American Education by Richard Arum, Josipa Roska, and Amanda Cook, that unveils this “faculty-led” (and Gates-funded) effort.
The Measuring College Learning project, which Arum has helped lead, seeks to change that dynamic by putting faculty members in charge of determining how to measure learning in six academic disciplines. After more than two years of work, the project has defined the “fundamental concepts and competencies society demands from today’s college graduates” in biology, business, communication, economics, history and sociology.
The project’s initial results are included in a newly released book by Arum, Josipa Roksa, an associate professor of sociology and education the University of Virginia, and Amanda Cook, a program manager at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
The Social Science Research Council has overseen the Measuring College Learning project. (Arum and Roksa were Academically Adrift’s coauthors and Cook previously worked for the council.) The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Teagle Foundation provided funding.
Fain explained the process of developing outcomes:
The project sought to have each panel of experts represent a broad range of colleges, geographic locations and sub-disciplines. The majority work at four-year institutions, but some are at community colleges or academic associations. And most have worked on other faculty-led efforts to measure learning.
“They are people who are doing this work,” said Arum, “and have been for decades.”
The faculty panels tried to identify “essential concepts,” meaning complex ideas, theoretical understandings and ways of thinking central to each discipline. They also came up with “essential competencies,” which the book said are “disciplinary practices and skills necessary to engage effectively in the discipline.”
The resulting concepts and competencies are not intended to be fixed, universal or comprehensive, the book said, calling them a “reasonable and productive framework.”
Of course we have to have standardized tests to go with the common standards….
“It may be difficult to list everything students should know and be able to do,” the book said, “but when faculty are asked to focus on essential elements they are quite ready, willing and able to define priorities for student learning in their disciplines.”
One of the project’s goals is for the white papers to be used for the creation of tests, or assessments, that colleges can use in a standardized way. However, those possible assessments must be voluntary, the book said, and based on multiple measures rather than a simple box-checking, multiple choice test.
College faculty, the article noted, may be forced to adopt measures like these.
For his part, Arum said he’s hopeful the majority of faculty members will welcome the project’s first draft of learning outcomes. That’s because the goal is to give them responsibility and ownership to drive the work “in a way that’s helpful to them.”
Even so, professors might have no other choice, the book argues, because policymakers and the general public will continue to pressure colleges to demonstrate value, including through some form of standardized assessment of student learning.
So the Common Core movement for college has been launched. Oh goody.