AHE TIG Week: Sean McKitrick on Accountability Demands for Assessment in Higher Education

My name is Sean McKitrick, Vice President with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

In higher education settings, “assessment” is a term that can mean both institutional research and student learning assessment and usually refers to institutional efforts to provide accurate data and reports to oversight bodies such as federal and state governments or to systems offices, to efforts to evaluate overall institutional effectiveness, and to efforts to assess student learning. In recent years, pressures to assess have their origins in pressures by state and federal governments, accreditors, and by a public requiring more accessible information for prospective applicants.

With regard to assessment in higher education settings, the following points, among others, appear salient:

  1. Accountability demands will only increase, but a debate is brewing about whether these demands should focus on reporting or institutional improvement. Some parties argue that accreditors should not be required to link assessment of student learning and other measures with recommendations regarding an institution’s future eligibility to dispense federal funds, while others argue that measures such as graduation rates and student salary information (in aggregate) are sufficient measures of institutional quality.
  2. Support for requiring institutions to report additional data, such as the aggregate salaries of students, engenders further debate regarding the reliability of such information. Some important questions to ask include: How effectively might institutions be able to contact students for salary information? Should the government be allowed to link federal databases in order to find such information independent of institutional involvement?
  3. The validity of assessment information continues to be debated. Although graduation and retention rates are important measures of institutional effectiveness, some argue that these can serve as proxy measures of student learning. Others argue that these measures do not directly evaluate student learning and other measures be taken to do this, although this increases reporting burdens on institutions.
  4. Pressures to assess student learning continue. However, given a lack of a common core of learning outcomes from institution to institution, it appears that the current trend is to focus on how institutions are using assessment processes (and evaluation information) to manage and improve student learning rather than to focus solely on the measurement of outcomes.

Hot Tip: Assessment and evaluation in higher education continue, but expectations regarding methods of evaluation and assessment are changing as well as expectations regarding what information to report and use by governments and accrediting organizations.

RAD Resource: The College Navigator site, sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics, is the primary site where institutional data required by the U.S. Department of Education can be found, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Assessment in Higher Education (AHE) TIG Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from AHE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “AHE TIG Week: Sean McKitrick on Accountability Demands for Assessment in Higher Education”

  1. Barbara Acosta

    I would have liked to see some more critical analysis of the idea of using graduates’ salaries as one measure of success. Such a measure would be based on huge assumptions about the value of various professions. Does that mean that schools of business would be judged as more effective than schools of education? Even if one were to compare apples to apples (i.e. compare schools of education with one another) you would be rewarding those whose graduates went on to teach in the wealthier districts, and punishing those who produce graduates with the skills and passion to teach the most vulnerable students. Ouch.

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