Report Calls for New Assessment Tools, but Not Tests, to Foster Accountability

August 08, 2006

As a federal commission begins wrapping up its work this week on a report on the future of higher education, college officials worry that its recommendations could lead to the imposition of strict, new accountability standards on colleges and universities—standards that could be met only through a battery of high-stakes tests.

The president of Pace University, David A. Caputo, thinks assessment is a good principle, but standardized tests a lousy means toward that goal. In a new report, “A Blueprint for Campus Accountability: Lessons From the Pace University Experience,” he argues that Pace’s own record of self-assessment is a far-more-effective means of demonstrating accomplishment by both students and faculty members.

The 32-page report highlights several new evaluative tools, such as the National Survey of Student Engagement, that can be used to assess a wide range of different types of colleges, and can help prospective students make informed decisions about where to enroll.

The report also highlights Pace’s use of nonquantitative methods of assessment, including professors’ creation of “portfolios” of their teaching materials. “The best lesson from our self-assessment efforts,” Mr. Caputo writes, “has been that self-assessment is not a vehicle for keeping score, but for getting better.”

Pace said on Tuesday that copies of the report were being sent to members of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, who are scheduled to meet on Thursday for what is likely to be the last time before the panel issues a report laying out its findings and recommendations (The Chronicle, August 4).