Liberal Education

From the Editor

It has been just over a decade since the Commission on the Future of Higher Education appointed by the then secretary of education Margaret Spellings issued its report, calling for greater accountability and recommending an outcomes-based approach allied with a consumerist vision of postsecondary education. Released in the context of mounting concerns about the effects of the No Child Left Behind Act on K-12 education, and widely viewed as potentially presaging an NCLB-style incursion into higher education, the report marked a key moment in the ongoing assessment movement.

As Russell Neuman observes in this issue, “blue ribbon panels rarely say much that is new or stimulate much sustained attention, but the Spellings report seemed to strike a chord and did a bit of both.” Ten years on from the release of the report of the Spellings Commission, what have been its lasting effects on the assessment movement? In the first of three stock-taking articles, Neuman takes up this question, revisiting the report’s key themes and recommendations in light of subsequent developments.

In the second article, Douglas Roscoe also uses the occasion of the ten-year anniversary of the Spellings report to reflect on the direction of the assessment movement, arguing that “the time is right for a reassessment of assessment.” The current assessment paradigm, he concludes, has led to the ossification of certain practices that ought to be either reconsidered or abandoned altogether. Drawing on extensive experience in assessment, Roscoe proposes a new paradigm that would displace the primacy of evidence and data and refocus efforts more directly on the improvement of teaching and learning.

Within the context set by Neuman and Roscoe, the third article takes stock of AAC&U’s own work on assessment. There, Terrel Rhodes points out that the association “has for decades been engaged simultaneously with assessment for learning improvement and assessment for accountability, viewing these two strands as intertwined by necessity and practice.” He reviews the development of AAC&U’s distinctive VALUE approach, which includes the rubric-based assessment of authentic student work and has “helped facilitate the transformation of assessment into a high-impact practice.” Rhodes also describes an important initiative currently underway to explore whether and how the VALUE approach to assessing student learning outcomes can be brought to scale across higher education.

In Our Students’ Best Work: A Framework for Accountability Worthy of Our Mission, a statement first issued in 2004, the AAC&U Board of Directors observes that, “despite the development over the past three decades of a veritable ‘assessment movement,’ too many institutions and programs still are unable to answer legitimate questions about what their students are learning in college. Both the aims and the outcomes of college have remained unclear.” Does this still remain the case today, more than a decade after the release of the Spellings report and more than a dozen years after the AAC&U Board urged educational leaders to “embrace a set of highly valued and widely affirmed educational goals, establish high standards for each, and assess their achievement across the curriculum”? By examining the current state of the assessment movement and reviewing both its successes and its shortcomings, the articles featured in this issue offer a response to this question. They also offer suggestions for where the movement might most productively go from here.

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