Friday, May 03, 2013

High Stakes Testing in Higher Ed

George Bush and No Child Left Behind dragged elementary and secondary education into the world of high stakes testing, albeit kicking and screaming. What about that really pricey item in the budget, higher education? So far it has been mostly immune, though there are a few clues from such things as the GRE, MCAT, LSAT and so on, but are there any institutional statistics kept for those things? I haven't heard of them, at least not of public statistics.

The country spends a fortune on higher ed, so wouldn't it make sense to see what we are getting for our investment? I think that the Obama administration wants to see something along these lines, especially to rein in some of the outrageous nonsense being sold by the for profit colleges.

If you are in higher ed, though, you have to be at least a little worried. Suppose you are Harvard, with astronomical tution, entering SAT scores, and resources, and it turns out that your graduates really aren't outdoing those of State U X? That would be a prestige calamity of catastrophic proportions. What about Nowhere State U, if it finds out that its grads, with comparable SAT scores to those at Barely Anywhere State are losing by a mile? And what about those pesky MOOCs?

Implementation presents challenges. Who gets to decide what every graduate ought to know? How about majors and concentrations? For physics, math and engineering, this shouldn't be too tough, but what about philosophy, history, and theater?

Whatever the test, it should not be a minimum proficiency test. Make some problems easy enough even for those who spent most of their six years in school stoned, and some hard enough to challenge the prodigy.