Process Concerns–One Voice Speaks For Many


December 14, 2009

Note sent to College Liaison from a Program Assessment Point:

I have a few comments on the assessment report. I will have something to you by Friday, but I also have some serious reservations about the assessments themselves. I did have a very nice meeting with Gary to talk about some of these issues.

First of all:

I do not consider grades irrelevant, the way the assessment expectations do, for several reasons.

It diminishes and devalues the capacity of trained professionals, us teachers, to accurately and continuously assess what students have learned; and substitutes the judgments of people not involved in teaching these students for that of the teachers. I find that almost offensive (to put it politely).

The assumption seems to be that grades only or mainly test memory and  memorization, and that is not learning critical thinking skills. True enough, but you cannot think critically if you have not memorized basic information of what you are thinking critically about.

Let me give you an example. In my intro [snip] class (with about 200 students on the average) I spend about a week discussing [key issue]. Most students have a firm opinion about [the issue]. I do not discuss [it] at a philosophical level (that can be done in Philosophy classes) but as a policy decision made by practitioners in the system. The [issue] is not an abstract notion but a process engaged in and determined by multiple actors. My argument to the class is this: [regardless of your personal opinion] you have to know how the process works. You have to know the decision points in the process, the outcomes of decisions, and the consequences of decisions for basic conceptions (e.g., accuracy or discrimination) in order to make an informed and critical argument – that requires memorization (knowing the details of the process and the empirical outcomes). If you don’t know that basic information you only engage in vapid babblings. I can assess if they know that basic information, and I can assign a credible and verifiable grade. In short, memorization is a critical component of critical thinking. So I do not understand why grading is so devalued by the designers of the assessment process.

Next, if assessments of assessments are the goal, when will the process end?  Pretty soon we will be required to assess the assessments of assessments which will leave us with less and less time to actually teach.

Next and this is important. If the assessment people have methodologies which have been successfully used by others to assess student performance and learning and to assess assessments, why can’t these be shared? Right now, all of us who have to do this individually have to invent the wheel again and again. Talk about redundancy and inefficiency.

If I had a list of proven assessment methodologies, I could decide which fit our program and which we can feasibly accomplish given the ample resources and time we have on our hands. Whoever developed the questions and boxes we have to fill in, clearly should have some ideas about how this can be done to create credible and verifiable evidence of learning and assessments. Why not share those ideas those ideas and methodologies with the rest of us, so we can benefit from the expertise of assessment designers?

It is almost fun to read the jargon which permeates the draft of measures and outcomes, any of the other boxes, until I remind myself that I have to come up with some rhetoric to meet those demands and achieve an outstanding grade. What for example does it mean to  have ‘measures which clearly address questions faculty and administration care about.’ I have absolutely no idea what faculty care about on this topic and if I have to address that indicator someone should tell me what faculty care about so I can address those concerns. At it stands right now, these are merely and only empty words.

Or, this relates to minimal outcome measures, which are ‘indirect measures (based on perceptions) rather than direct measures of performance.’ So if I were to ask external stakeholders how are our students whom you hire performing, are those perception or performance answers I will get back?

Or to achieve an outstanding, ‘multiple measures focus on student’s performance, privileging indirect measures of student learning and the learning process’. What are these indirect measures I should privilege (another real jargon term)? I could observe them eating pizza to overhear if they talk about anything in the class ‘ would that count?

One can go through all of the verbiage which is stated in the draft and without having a clear sense of what they are after. Someone needs to rewrite this in basic English, with clearly expressed ideas.

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