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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Uniform testing may be required

    Standardized tests could soon become mandatory in higher education and play a major factor in the accreditation process, because of a conclusion published by the Commission on the Future of Higher Education.

    In its Aug. 1, 2006, report, “”A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education,”” the commission found faults in higher education, saying “”universities don’t accept responsibility for making sure that those they admit actually succeed”” and identified problems such as “”a lack of reliable information about the cost and quality of postsecondary education.””

    The commission concluded that education would improve if the results of these standardized tests were made available in a public report as a condition of accreditation, a finding that has raised concern with college administrators, said President Robert Shelton.

    “”Many in higher education have (reviewed the implications) and have raised alarm bells,”” Shelton said. “”The concern is not that we have standards – we do have rigorous standards for accreditation. Rather, the concern is that the government would take over from the independent commissions that currently conduct the accreditations.””

    In 1999, Charles Miller, chairman of the commission, made Texas’ state university system the first to require the use of standardized testing and publication of results.

    The test, deemed the Collegiate Learning assessment, is still in its pilot phase and has not yet been released in final form, according to Neil Armstrong, vice president of provost at the University of Texas at Austin.

    “”What we’re doing is looking at the data to see what it’s telling us and getting familiar with the test instrument,”” Armstrong said. “”It’s too soon to try and use it as an instrument to do any more than give us a general indication of how we are doing. It’s somewhat limited on what it will test, but appears to be a pretty good instrument.”” There are many, however, who oppose the government-imposed idea of standardized testing.

    “”What we

    College is about making choices and transitioning to real life, not being spoon-fed knowledge.

    -Andrew Swazey,
    mining engineering freshman

    oppose is the prescription of what those tools should be by the federal government,”” said Tony Pals, director of public information at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. “”We don’t want the federal government telling colleges and universities that they have to use exam A or B to determine the quality of their teaching.””

    While Miller was fascinated by the UCLA, an assessment that is used by dozens, if not hundreds of colleges, not every single college in the country is going to think that it’s the best, Pals said.

    If the tests are introduced, the law will apply to all colleges including public and private, Ivy League, small liberal arts, undergraduate colleges of engineering, performing and theater arts and religious schools.

    The commission seems to be headed toward a one-size-fits-all measure,”” he said.

    “”The nation’s colleges are very diverse and it would be impossible to find one, two or three one-size-fits-all measures that would take into account all the different types of
    universities and academic programs they provide,”” Pals said. “”How could you find one or two universal measures that would allow for suitable comparison?””

    Another large fear, Pals said, is that professors may make their curricula follow the content of the exams.

    “”Schools would start teaching to the test,”” Pals said. “”By having a one-sized standard measure you’d be destroying the diversity of America’s colleges. One of their foundations is independence from the federal government, allowing for new innovations, increased flexibility and a creative edge in each school’s educational life.””

    Others believe standardazed testing would help universities to improve.

    “”My belief is if the test is a good test, then why not teach to it?”” Armstrong said. “”These are tasks students will be engaged in once they’re in the business-place and are valuable capabilities they should have once they finish at the university.””

    ASUA President Tommy Bruce said he does not think standardized tests in higher education are a good idea.

    “”It wouldn’t allow for the dynamics of universities and would pigeonhole our students,”” he said. “”It’s like making everyone march in the same line. I can see how it works in high school to a point, but when you get into college it’s a whole other ball game.””

    Other students said they feel that a few of the problems, such as unpreparedness for the pressures of college and the large drop-out rate, are not in the hands of universities.

    “”College is about making choices and transitioning to real life, not being spoonfed knowledge,”” said Andrew Swazey, a mining engineering freshman.

    In addition, Pals said he does not feel that the commission addressed more important problems in postsecondary education.

    “”What has been one of our major concerns over the last few years is that the conversation in Washington regarding education has moved away from affordability and accessibility to accountability,”” Pals said. “”The conversation no longer seems to be as focused on making sure low- and middle-income students can afford college.””

    President Shelton said he is not in favor of standardized testing at the UA, as it may constrict education opportunities.

    “”A true strength of the U.S. system of higher education is the variety of options afforded students – from large public research universities to small private undergraduate institutions,”” Shelton said. “”We should not put this in jeopardy for the sake of standardizing education.””

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