It’s not enough to push more students to a college degree, writes Richard M. Freeland, commissioner of higher education in Massachusetts, in the Boston Globe. We need a way to evaluate how much students have learned.
“Without a common set of criteria by which to gauge the quality of student work, we can’t improve our programs, enhance curricular design, or effectively prepare students for future employment and civic engagement,” he writes.
As part of Massachusetts’ Vision Project, public colleges and universities have created a statewide framework to assess student learning outcomes.
This pilot effort — launched at seven community college, state university, and UMass campuses last year — assessed broad dimensions of liberal arts learning. Hundreds of student papers, lab reports, and other samples of written work were collected from a wide range of courses across many disciplines. Several dozen faculty scorers then used rubrics, or standards, developed by the American Association of Colleges and Universities to assess student work in three areas: written communication, critical thinking, and quantitative literacy.
With training, faculty members reached “a high degree of consensus on the quality of student work,” Freeland writes. “Many faculty discovered that their assignments would need to be redesigned if their students were to be able to demonstrate the competencies spelled out in the rubrics.”
Eight states — Connecticut, Rhode Island, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, and Utah — have joined Massachusetts in an attempt “to produce cross-state comparisons of student learning outcomes, he writes.
Answering the question, “Is college worth it?” isn’t just a matter of calculating college costs and graduates’ earnings, concludes Freeland. What have they learned? What can they do?