To the Editor:
Professor Greene’s entertaining essay mischaracterizes the roles of both accreditation and assessment of student learning (“The Terrible Tedium of ‘Learning Outcomes’,” The Chronicle Review, January 4).
WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) expects institutions to craft their own goals and methods in service of their mission. Our shorthand is “what, not how.” We do not demand that assessment — or any other campus function — be done in a specific way. We are serious, though, about assuring that institutions meet the needs of students and are accountable for results. Simply put, and with all jargon aside, we ask institutions to evaluate how well they are doing their core activities, including teaching, learning, and student support.
Professor Greene critiqued her college’s approach to assessment, apparently as of her transition to emerita status in 2014. Interestingly, that same year when WSCUC issued its last Commission Action Letter for Scripps (available for viewing on WSCUC’s website), the Commission noted that its assessment system seemed relatively complex and centralized, and offered external guidance for the notion that assessment could be simple and effective. The “assessment movement,” while sometimes overzealous, revealed the power of connecting purpose and learning, and the urgency of understanding student success. It is my hope that the hallway conversations and lack of clarity around the purpose of assessment led to conversation, reflection, even debate, at Scripps about student outcomes and appropriate measures of success, advancing understanding of academic commitments and effectiveness as opposed to stoking anxiety or dismissing the power of meaningful data.
This is an era of intense reckoning with student success, equity, and the value of higher education. Accreditation and assessment today create constructive dialogue and necessary attention to how institutions define and pursue their missions, serve students and society, plan and innovate for improvement, and meet standards defined and rigorously applied by their peers.
Jamienne S. Studley
WASC Senior College and University Commission