10 November 2009

Comparability of College Assessments

In the search for proof of what college can do for the nation, we have a fair number of accountability initiatives. Some prescribed by government, some by accreditors. And then there are the self-assigned initiatives although they may be prompted by those other prescriptions.

We move quickly from "accountability" to "assessment," because we need measurement. So, assessment-the-process and assessment-the-instrument develop and we must then move to "validity," because we really need to know if we are measuring what our charge for accountability demands that we measure.

Some associations emerge to help with the process, one being VSA, Voluntary System of Accountability. That's a gathering of 4-year public universities just since 2006 to bring transparency and accountability to higher ed. VSA's most visible achievement (on the web, at least) is College Portraits, a collection of institutional profiles providing "comparable information" on colleges for easy review by students and families.

Recently, VSA published a report on validity of what most educators consider the "top" standardized assessments (instruments) of gen ed skills, specifically tests from the CAAP, CLA, and MAPP. The results announce that the assessments are comparable in what they do. The report does a nice job of explaining the results when the institution is the unit of analysis and when the student is the unit of analysis. (The results differ.)

Depending on what assumption you (personally) have about standardized assessments of gen ed skills and applicability to student learning, you now have an answer.

Assumption #1: Such assessments measure student learning. Your answer: The top assessments are comparable and you can proceed with your choice based on other criteria (cost, logistics, etc.)

Assumption #2: Such assessments may measure something but probably not student learning. Your answer: The top assessments are comparable; in short, they're all the same.

© 2009 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. Email contact: bold[AT]marybold.com. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as legal or professional advice. Bold is the co-author of Reflections: Preparing for your Practicum or Internship, geared to college interns in the child, education, and family fields. She is a consultant and speaker on assessment, distance learning, and technology.

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