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Nov. 11, 2008


Stuck on Student Learning


By Peter <mailto:[log in to unmask]>  T. Ewell

It has been eight years since Measuring Up 2000 awarded every state a grade
of "Incomplete" in the Learning category to highlight the fact that the
nation lacks consistent measures of student learning in higher education.
Since then, the National Center for Public Policy in Higher Education has
been consistent in reporting progress on developing measures of student
learning, culminating in Measuring Up 2004 when we reported state-level
learning results for five states that participated in a national
demonstration project. To signify progress, we awarded a "Plus" (+) grade to
these five states and added six more "Plus" grades in Measuring Up 2006 to
recognize states that participated in the National Assessment of Adult
Literacy (NAAL) on a statewide basis.

We know that interest in assessment at the college level has grown in this
period. The Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) and the National Survey of
Student Engagement (NSSE) had not been launched when we began our effort.
And stimulated, in part, by the report of the Commission
<http://insidehighered.com/news/focus/commission>  on the Future of Higher
Education convened by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, accreditors
and institutions are far more serious about the need to look at educational
results than they were back then.

But despite this apparent progress, an important dimension of collegiate
learning has gotten lost in recent debates about assessing learning. That is
the need for states and the nation to develop indicators of progress in
building "educational capital" - the levels of collective knowledge and
skills possessed by their citizenry as a whole.

In K-12 education, the states have exit examinations that ensure that high
school graduates meet minimum standards and that individual schools can be
held accountable. But state leaders also rely on measures like the National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in order to benchmark progress,
identify strengths and weaknesses, and compare themselves to other states.
The Spellings Commission discussed these matters and recommended that more
states follow the approach to measuring educational capital pioneered by the
National Center's five-state demonstration project. The commission also
recommended increasing state participation in the NAAL, as well as
administering it more frequently. We need these kinds of collective measures
to keep our higher education policies pointed in the right direction and to
tell us where we are strong and weak.

Unfortunately, as a nation, we appear to be going backwards on these types
of measures. Only 6 states - down from 12 for the 1992 assessment - signed
up to be "oversampled" for the 2003 literacy test, which means that they
asked the test's sponsors to collect enough data from their states that they
could obtain a reliable state-level estimate of literacy. In addition, a
repeat administration of this important literacy assessment is nowhere in
sight. Despite promises to do so, moreover, the National Center for
Education Statistics (NCES) has yet to produce 50-state estimates of citizen
performance on NAAL prose literacy almost five years after the assessment
was administered.

Meanwhile, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
is moving forward with an international feasibility study on collegiate
learning without <http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/04/21/oecd>  a
U.S. commitment to participate.

Individual state attention to this matter is equally uneven. A few states
continue to assess students using established examinations for which
national benchmarks are available. Among them are South Dakota, which
requires all students attending public universities to achieve a certain
standard on the ACT CAAP examination as a condition of graduation, and
Kentucky, which will replicate a variant of the Learning Model developed by
the National Center for its five-state demonstration project.

These states are joined by West Virginia, whose public institutions will
administer the CLA on a statewide basis next year, and Oregon, which is
experimenting as a state with portfolio measures in collaboration with the
Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU). But Arkansas
abandoned its longstanding program of statewide testing centered on the ACT
CAAP last year and a recent SHEEO survey on this topic found state agency
engagement in assessment to be at an all-time low.

At least as important, states are doing assessment, where they are doing it
at all, to demonstrate institutional accountability. They are not measuring
learning to determine gaps in what their college-educated citizens as a
group know and can do, consistent with a public agenda for higher education.

This is equally true for the growing number of institutions that are holding
themselves accountable through such initiatives as the Voluntary System of
Accountability developed by the National Association of State Universities
and Land-Grant Colleges and the American Association of State Colleges and
Universities. However admirable these efforts may be from the standpoint of
responsible institutional accountability, they provide little real
information for policy making. And they are being undertaken largely for
political reasons - to blunt the recent attempts by the Department of
Education to impose new reporting requirements about student learning
through accreditation - rather than as part of a broader effort to
systematically improve instruction.

In short, events in the wake of the Spellings Commission have served to
politicize public debate about information on student learning and
attainment at precisely the point at which such information should be
collectively owned and generated. Nowhere has this condition been more
apparent than in the realm of developing longitudinal databases of students.
At a time when more than two-thirds of students earning baccalaureate
degrees have attended several institutions, we still lack the capacity to
track student progress on a national basis because of political opposition
masquerading as a concern about privacy. As 42 states have already
demonstrated, higher education agencies using today's information technology
are perfectly capable of creating powerful student unit record databases
that do not compromise security.

With America's competitive edge in producing college graduates eroding
steadily among our younger citizens, we need benchmarked information about
student attainment and learning more than ever. In the past decade, we have
developed the technical capacity to generate such information and the policy
wisdom to use it effectively. But, as a nation, we are no farther along on
producing it in 2008 than we were in 2000 when Measuring Up first awarded
every state an "Incomplete" in Learning.

Peter T. Ewell is the vice president at the National Center for Higher
Education Management Systems, a research and development center founded to
improve the management effectiveness of colleges and universities. He serves
on the National Advisory Group for Measuring Up 2008, the national and state
report card on higher education issued by the National Center for Public
Policy and Higher Education. Measuring Up 2008 will be released on December
3, when it will be available for viewing and download on the
<http://www.highereducation.org/>  National Center's Web site.

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at
http://insidehighered.com/views/2008/11/11/ewell
<http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2008/11/11/ewell> .

C Copyright 2008 Inside Higher Ed

Nov. 11, 2008


Grants, Scrutiny for Veterans Education


The new GI Bill is likely to bring an influx of veterans to college in 2009,
but there's precious little consensus about how best to help these students
succeed once they arrive on campus, according to the American Council on
Education.

ACE unveiled a program Monday that aims to grow programs that serve student
veterans. Perhaps more importantly, ACE officials say they're determined to
find out whether programs that purport to help veterans navigate through
higher education actually work.

With the help of funding from the Wal-Mart Foundation, ACE is offering a
total of $2.5 million in grants to institutions that will operate model
programs specifically designed for veterans on campus. Those programs could
be as diverse as on-campus veterans' organizations, peer mentoring groups
and counseling services geared toward veterans.

The one-time $100,000 grants will be distributed to colleges that agree to
publish an analysis of their programs' effectiveness, potentially examining
outcomes like graduation and retention rates.

"The intent is to have empirical data that can drive decisions on the
appropriateness of replicating those programs across sectors," said Jim
Selbe, assistant vice president of lifelong learning with ACE.

The grants will be awarded on a competitive basis, and a premium will be
placed on funding institutions that have clear plans for tracking outcomes,
Selbe said.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs tracks college-going rates for
veterans, but the outcomes for student veterans - and how those outcomes
might be affected by support programs - have not been followed closely,
Selbe said. There's also little definitive data about the prevalence of
veteran-specific programs across higher education, he said.

"Right now that's information that no one has," Selbe said.

Survey to Examine Span of Programs

A key prong of ACE's new initiative, called "Serving Those Who Serve: Higher
Education and America
<http://www.acenet.edu/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Press_Releases2&TEMPLATE=/CM/
ContentDisplay.cfm&CONTENTID=29868> 's Veterans," will be conducting a
national survey of colleges to identify the services and programs already
offered to veterans. ACE plans to make its findings public through seminars
and reports, but there's been no decision yet about whether to publish
institutional-level data that might begin to show which specific colleges
have the most robust veterans programs - and which ones have few or none at
all.

"I would say that we haven't come to a decision as to whether to engage in
that as well," Selbe said. "We're in the early stages."

A chief concern for ACE officials is whether veterans are fully aware of the
educational benefits that will be extended to them under the new GI Bill,
formally known as the Post-9/11
<http://www.gibill.va.gov/CH33/Post_911_Factsheet.pdf>  Veterans Educational
Assistance Act of 2008. The law, which goes into effect Aug. 1, 2009, would
provide funding for tuition and fees up to the cost of in-state tuition at
the most expensive public college in a veteran's state. ACE aims to spread
information about the new benefits through a newly developed Web site,
supported by an $800,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education.

"I think there is a big challenge to make sure that there is effective
communication to all the individuals who are eligible, and to [help them]
understand that college is a possibility for them and/or for their
dependents," said Molly Corbett Broad, president of ACE.

In the most recent National Survey of Veterans,
<http://www1.va.gov/vetdata/page.cfm?pg=5>  released in 2001, fewer than
half of veterans said they were satisfied with their ability to get the
information they needed about benefits. The newest of cohort veterans
surveyed at that time were those from the Gulf War, 30 percent of whom said
they had received training or education benefits. Gulf War veterans had the
lowest education benefits participation rate of any cohort on record, dating
back to World War II, after which 42 percent of veterans said they'd
received such benefits.

- Jack <mailto:[log in to unmask]>  Stripling

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at
http://insidehighered.com/news/2008/11/11/vets
<http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/11/11/vets> .

C Copyright 2008 Inside Higher Ed


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