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To be clear, assessment is not simply giving students grades. It's more than that. It answers a simple question. As put forward by an illustrious ex-president: "Is our children learning?" (Sarcasm.)
It make me sad because the whole "Is our children learning?" line used to kill. Kids today don't get the joke... Seriously though, American universities allowed themselves to become nothing more than credentialing factories. We thrive on the myth of meritocracy, but the truth of the matter is that higher education in America has become transactional. Money buys a degree, not an education. And the more prestigious the school, the more bullshit the actual education.
It doesn't have to be this way. But, the problem is that actually answering that question as to whether the kids are learning would be deeply embarrassing, and call into question the whole Horatio Alger mythology we've been conned into believing.
I'm firmly of the belief that for every course an instructor should specify expected students outcomes. (By the end of the course a student should be able to....) Moreover, there needs to be an explicit identification of how these outcomes will be achieved. I could say more on this, but that would drag this out.
Finally, and this is a touchy subject. There needs to be some sort of verification. I strongly favor the idea of pre-test/post-test. Measure the ability of students demonstrate outcomes before the class, and after the class. The difference between these two is what actually constitutes education. In fact, I would favor abandoning the entire system of ranked grades for one focused on mastery of outcomes. If nothing else this would be considerably more consistent than the current system, where grade have different meanings depending on school, instructor, and courses.
Consider the implications of this. How much actual education, thus defined, actually happens in universities? And, which institutions actually provide the most education?
In terms of education, taking a student who has mastered perhaps 5% of the outcomes associated with a course prior to entry, and having the leave having mastered 75% of outcomes is an enormous success.
On the other hand, where students enter having mastered 75% of outcomes, and exit having mastered 85% of outcomes, is basically a failure.
Yet, under the present system, we call the former failure, and the latter success. And we pretend that doing so doesn't reinforce the patterns of pre-existing privilege in our culture.
Does that make even the least bit of sense?
And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg
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