Assessing Assessment?

The appalling legacy of “assessment” goes on and on and on. This “frank discussion” at a recent WASC conference is a classic bit of “too little, too late.”

I’m someone keenly interested in the organizational aspects of higher education, especially in questions of how we know we are being as effective and as productive as the world needs us to be. But for most of my career I’ve watched millions of person-dollars squandered on misguided efforts to “document” and “measure” learning. Alongside that I’ve watched the erosion of the intellectual integrity of institutions and individuals as they winked and went through the motions of methods they knew (or should have known) were bogus and would never produce actionable, valid knowledge. We watched as individual faculty members sold their souls for small stipends or to keep on the good side of a dean who might have input into their tenure or promotion case. And those of us who dared to apply our professional training to point out the inanity of the methodological manure being sold to us endured being dressed down for not being team players or having our commitment to students questioned by arrogant small-minded assessment consultants.

A real underlying pathology exposed by the ongoing assessment debacle is the monopoly power of the accreditation agencies. For the last two decades they ranted about accountability in higher education – the one standard they would never have to meet. The hypocrisy of agencies like WASC being immune to serious criticism should be an embarrassment to people who care about higher education.

The simple move of forcing national education accreditation agencies to compete rather than allowing them to enjoy geography-based monopolies would do more for higher education than a thousand conference presentations from people who live off the problem rather than for its solution.