You come right to the problem, then. Do we fit students to instruction, or fit the instruction to the students? I think the problem is going to be the latter. And, in the experience of institutions that have gotten into this recently, the effectiveness of basic skills instruction as measured by the outcome of student learning is the criterion that institutions will be held to. So, when you start entry testing, be ready; the other shoe is going to drop. People are going to want to know: How effective is the instruction?
Effective instruction will not necessarily follow assessment. It will come from coherent curricula, imaginative teaching, high expectations, and student involvement, but no improvement is going to come from assessment per se. In New Jersey, for example, where they have had assessment for ten years, there was not a unit of improvement in high school results between 1980 and 1986, even with the test and with widely publicized results. Improvement came when one person stepped forward, and then a group of people stepped forward and said, "We are going to make a difference." How did those people make a difference? They started to talk about changing the character of the instruction. They worked on the curriculum, the expectations, the level of student involvement. I might even paraphrase the trinity of the National Institute of Education report: After 25 years of research on effectiveness in learning, set high expectations, involve students in their learning, assess and provide feedback. The involvement and expectations are really going to make the difference to student learning in the long run.
Yet, assessment is an essential part. An analogy, though an imperfect one, is in how you lose weight. A bathroom scale does not cause you to lose weight; dieting and exercise cause you to lose weight. The bathroom scale is a very important device for monitoring weight loss and providing feedback on your efforts, but it does not cause weight loss. If we care about the effectiveness of our basic skills instruction, we must pay a lot more attention to basic educational issues and not quite so much to psychometric issues.
I am often asked at the AAHE Assessment Forum, "What kind of assessment should we do?" My response to that almost always is, "What do you want to accomplish, and what is your strategy for