Measuring College Learning Responsibly: Accountability in a New Era

Measuring College Learning Responsibly: Accountability in a New Era

Measuring College Learning Responsibly: Accountability in a New Era

Measuring College Learning Responsibly: Accountability in a New Era


Accrediting boards, the federal government, and state legislatures are now requiring a greater level of accountability from higher education. However, current accountability practices, including accreditation, No Child Left Behind, and performance reporting are inadequate to the task. If wielded indiscriminately, accountability can actually do more harm than good. This innovative work looks broadly at how accountability is being considered by campuses, accrediting boards, higher education organizations, and governments in the US and abroad. It explores how new demands for accountability and new technologies are changing the way student learning is assessed.

The author, one of the most respected assessment researchers in the nation, provides a framework for assessing student learning and discusses historical and contemporary debates in the field. He details new directions in assessment, such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment he helped develop, analyzes exemplary campus assessment programs, and proposes considerations necessary for designing successful accountability systems.


This book has been gestating for almost twenty years. It was conceived, unbeknownst to me at the time, when a program officer at the National Science Foundation asked if I thought that a collegiate version of NAEP could be built. I wondered why the government would want a one-size-fits-all, largely multiplechoice test for all colleges and universities in their full diversity. What good might come of information provided by a collegiate NAEP with scores reported publically in league tables? Why adopt wholesale for higher education an assessment built to monitor mandatory precollegiate education?

I paused then and said that that wasn't a good idea, and, if it was tried, I would oppose it. I didn't see how a single, narrowly gauged achievement test of basic skills could be developed in a manner sensitive to the diversity of education and missions in the nation's institutions of higher education, including the development of higher-order cognitive abilities and personal and interpersonal skills. I didn't see how information provided by a single, general test could be used to improve teaching and learning in higher education. And I didn't see why it would be appropriate to adopt a solution to mandatory precollegiate education for elective higher education, knowing the strengths and limitations of large-scale assessments in an accountability context, as well as the political uses and misuses that have been made of such tests.

I then lost sight of the question of higher-education accountability for a couple of years until a friend, a music professor at a small midwestern liberal arts college, phoned. He had been appointed to a campus-wide committee charged with responding to the North Central Accreditation and School Improvement Association's mandate to assess student learning. He wondered if I thought it . . .

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