ASSESSMENT, STUDENT DEVELOPMENT, AND PUBLIC POLICY
Alexander W. Astin
University of California, Los Angeles
A basic premise in my consideration of college impact and public policy is that the fundamental purposes of assessment activities in higher education should be to promote educational equity and to facilitate the student's educational development. As Sister Joel Read maintained in Chapter 6, assessment should promote success and access. Another way of saying this is that assessment of students, more than anything else, should advance the educational mission of our colleges and universities. McKeachie said essentially the same thing in Chapter 5 when he remarked that "educational assessment should be educational." I will also argue that many of our traditional assessment practices are not well-suited to higher education's basic educational purpose, and that some of these practices would appear even to undermine those purposes. I would first like to take a critical look at traditional assessment practices -- especially those that involve the use of standardized tests -- and then suggest some ways in which we might be able to reform these practices.
Before getting to any specifics, I would briefly like to share the value perspective from which I am approaching this problem. Like all educators, I support the notion of "excellence" in higher education. For quite a while now I have been arguing that there are two traditional conceptions of excellence -- the resource and reputational approaches -- that govern much of what we do. The resources conception is based on the idea that excellence depends primarily on having lots of resources: the more we have, the more excellent our institution. Those resources that are supposed to make us excellent include money, high quality faculty, and high quality students.