June 26, 2007

Assessment for 'Us' and Assessment for 'Them'

By Jeremy <mailto:[log in to unmask]>  Penn

In the movie <>  "Ghostbusters," Dan
Aykroyd commiserates with Bill Murray after the two lose their jobs as
university researchers. "Personally, I like the university. They gave us
money and facilities, and we didn't have to produce anything. You've never
been out of college. You don't know what it's like out there. I've worked in
the private sector. They expect results." I can find some amusement in this
observation, in a self-deprecating sort of way, recognizing that this
perception of higher education is shared by many beyond the characters in
this 1980s movie.

Members of Secretary Spellings' Commission
<>  on the Future of Higher
Education were very clear about their expectations for higher education when
they wrote, "Students increasingly care little about the distinctions that
sometimes preoccupy the academic establishment, from whether a college has
for-profit or nonprofit status to whether its classes are offered online or
in brick-and-mortar buildings. Instead, they care - as we do - about

This expectation for assessment as accountability has forced many faculty
members and administrators to seek out ways to balance assessment for "us",
or assessment for "improvement," with assessment for "them," or assessment
for "accountability." We do assessment for "us" in our classrooms, to
provide feedback to students on their progress, in our programs to provide
direction for improvement efforts, for each other when we provide reviews of
articles and of ourselves when we evaluate our own performance.

Conversely, assessment for "them" is done in response to an external demand
to prove "how much students learn in colleges and whether they learn more at
one college than another," as the Spellings Commission put it in its final

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