Thursday, October 2, 2008

On Assessment.

I'm a full time faculty member at a large state school in the southeast. Recently a colleague of mine sent the following thoughts on assessment to a large listserv inside the university. I think it's brilliant, and wanted to share it.

We have recently been asked to participate in a school-wide assessment campaign this fall. I questioned a couple of people on the wording of the request and was told that if I did not enthusiastically embrace the concept of assessment, I lacked both “virtue” and a “commitment to your students.” Wow! Talk about a “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists” point of view! I am sorry, but I am not convinced that assessment is necessary, let alone virtuous. I believe assessment is a product of over-administration in education.

When administrators (most of whom haven’t amassed enough teaching experience to fill a hobbit’s thimble) claim that we can’t know whether or not our students are learning without assessment, they are essentially stating the following: 1) you are not an expert in what you do and can’t make improvements without outside pressure and 2) you don’t care and won’t make improvements without outside pressure.

If assessment is all about accountability, then why don’t we get reciprocal accountability? I have been told by several people that at least some of the administrators here consider faculty “the enemy.” Some consider faculty a bunch of pot-smoking, sandal-wearing, leftist, free-love hippies out to milk a cushy existence out of the hard-working American’s tax dollar and it is the duty of the administration to prevent that. If assessment is designed to make faculty accountable for what we do in the classroom, why can’t faculty assess the administration? I suggest that no college administrator's contract should be extended without approval by at least 60% of the faculty. If a college president could not achieve that approval rating, not only the president, but any of the executive team hired by the president should have to step down. Now that is accountability! I have said before, and I say again, the best way to serve the needs and interests of the students is to serve the needs and interests of the faculty.

If assessment is all about excellence, then why not consider other paths to excellence? Southwest Airlines, Google, Microsoft, and others have all shown tremendous profits, innovation, and creativity by focusing on staff satisfaction and happiness. How about this: take 10 faculty members and keep everything the same (salary, work load, etc.) and ADD assessment duties to their lives while taking 10 faculty members and giving them a 25% raise while reducing work load and providing adequate professional support (better offices, parking, professional development, etc). At the end of two years, study the student outcomes and see which batch of students fared better. How is that for generating some DATA? The appetite for data is only strong when the decisions about power and paradigm have already been made.