Measuring academic drift

Forty-five percent of college students don’t improve their reasoning or writing skills in the first two years of college, concludes the Academically Adrift study by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. Thirty-six percent show no progress after four years.

Learning is more than analytical thinking, responds Robert Sternberg, an Oklahoma State provost and psychology professor, in Inside Higher Ed. The Arum-Roksa study relies on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which measures analytical thinking but doesn’t assess creative thinking, practical thinking (the ability to apply knowledge) or wise and ethical thinking, writes Sternberg, a testing expert.

Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile offers a better guide for evaluating students’ learning, Sternberg writes. He also praises the  Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative, which lists” knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world; intellectual and practical skills; teamwork and problem solving; personal and social responsibility; and integrative and applied learning” as “essential learning outcomes.”

In addition, CLA doesn’t measure “tacit knowledge” that students should gain in college, such as learning how to “form relationships with people and network effectively, how and from whom you seek help when you need it, how you decide whom you can trust and of whom you should be suspicious, how you meet the demands of an organization (collegiate or otherwise) while maintaining a meaningful life, and so forth.”

Ultimately, the goal of college education is to produce the active citizens and positive leaders of tomorrow — people who will make the world a better place. Narrow tests of cognitive skills do not measure the creative, practical, and wisdom-based and ethical skills that leaders need to succeed. We can and truly must assess much more broadly.

I have trouble believing that students who aren’t learning to think analytically or communicate clearly are learning to be creative, practical or wise. It would be great to assess students’ progress in a broad range of competencies, but there are limits to what’s practical or fair. Colleges aren’t going to deny degrees to students who lack creativity or wisdom, much less to those who haven’t learned how to network effectively or “maintain a meaningful life.”

The study did not include community college students, notes CC Dean. Community college students aren’t on campus for football and the fraternity parties, but they have other distractions — jobs and kids — from academics.


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Measuring academic drift — Joanne Jacobs

[...] College students should learn more than analytical thinking, writes psychologist Robert Sternberg in response to the Academically Adrift study showing many students don’t progress in two or even four years in college on the Collegiate Learning Assessment. But would an assessment of “creative thinking, practical thinking (the ability to apply knowledge) or wise and ethical thinking” show better results? [...]

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