Assessment in Higher Education: Issues of Access, Quality, Student Development, and Public Policy

By Samuel J. Messick | Go to book overview

12
ASSESSMENT OF HIGHER EDUCATION QUALITY: PROMISE AND POLITICS

Peter T. Ewell

National Center for Higher Education Management Systems -- NCHEMS

Many of the people whom I admire most in this business are represented in this volume, and I feel especially humble among them. And as always when I visit ETS, my humility is reinforced by the fact that I am a kind of ambassador from an elusive and somewhat seat-of-the-pants arena. Higher education assessment has always been a field composed of amateurs in the best sense of the word. As you know, most practitioners have been faculty themselves working in isolation, but occasionally guided by the examples of others which they gratefully snatch up wherever they can find them. And the kinds of assessment approaches that they have sought most eagerly are precisely those that are under discussion here, and that are so reflective of Warren Willingham's work--authentic, creative, and action-oriented.

Approaches that embody these qualities comprise the main tradition of the best in higher education assessment over the last three decades, and are embodied in the work of many of those in this book--Patricia Cross, Morris Keeton, Arthur Chickering, Alexander Astin, and Sister Joel Read. This creative tradition is fueled by the twin convictions that a) taken from the proper value perspective, assessment constitutes a powerful tool for collective improvement that is highly consistent with core academic values and b) infusion of the logic of assessment directly into classroom and curricular settings is perhaps the most powerful means we have at our disposal to transform the logic of pedagogy itself--from one-way instruction to collaboration and partnership.

I have been privileged to have been a part of this improvement-oriented, institution-centered agenda for some time now, and it is where my heart really lies. But it is not what I am going to talk about here. Instead, my principal topic is politics-- and in particular, how these politics both fuel and frustrate what we do. Since the assessment of quality first emerged as a major policy topic in higher education about a decade ago, it has had a dual existence. One strand of develop-

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