Academic journal article Peer Review

From the President

Academic journal article Peer Review

From the President

Article excerpt

As this issue of Peer Review goes to press, national events-from the breakdown of negotiations over new rules governing accreditation to the spirited resistance to secretaiy Spellings's efforts to federalize judgments about educational quality-remind us all that the larger context for our work is changing rapidly and dramatically.

Colleges and universities are under a spotlight with far more scrutiny than has been typical in recent years. The good news is that this heightened scrutiny is a result of higher education's increasing importance in our society. Once just an option for the fortunate, higher education is now seen as essential for America's future. The bad news is that many who are scrutinizing us have brought an accounting rather than an educational vision to the task. Determined to produce quantitative metrics that allow comparisons across institutions, the current Department of Education and policy leaders in many states are focusing relentlessly on things that can be counted, such as graduation rates, job placement rates, and pass rates on standardized tests. The obvious danger to anyone who cares about education is that we will end up narrowing and trivializing higher learning in order to measure it.

Yet employers, ironically, are urgently demanding that studentsmaster the higher-level outcomes associated with liberal education: analytical and communication skills, rich knowledge of science and global interdependence, and the ability to apply knowledge to unscripted problems where the "right answer" remains an unknown (see results of AAC&U's employer survey and recent LEAP report online at www.aacu.org/leap). But federal officials seem focused instead on what is best described as the meager minimum.

The higher education community is mobilizing to stop the misguided efforts launched by the Department of Education. But blocking is not enough. We must band together to champion a vision of educational quality and authentic assessment practices that will do more than measure basic skills. Assessment can and should be designed to deepen and strengthen student learning, not just to document it. And assessments surely must aim at the highest levels of student learning-at the integration of knowledge, analysis, and action-not at the most rudimentary levels. …

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