Monday, November 07, 2005

Assessments don't always add up 

We're constantly called on in the university to assess student outcomes, but our assessments don't necessarily match those that potential employers of our students offer. Today's Chronicle of Higher Education (temp link; perm link for subscribers) suggests our students are leaving without enough math and unable to communicate.

There is an "emerging consensus" among educators, business leaders, and accreditors on what skills all students should pick up as undergraduates, including good written and oral communication, a capacity for critical thinking, and the ability to work in teams. But the skimpy data available nationwide suggest that many students graduate with serious weaknesses in those areas, according to a report released on Friday.

The report, "Liberal Education Outcomes: A Preliminary Report on Student Achievement in College," was issued by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, a national organization that promotes liberal education.

About one in ten of graduates are proficient at the highest reading levels, and 8% in math. Of course, the numbers have to be taken with caution but they are reinforced by business leaders:
That worry is reinforced by the almost unanimous views of business leaders, said Ross E. Miller, the association's director of programs and an author of the report. They "are reporting a weakness in certain skills, particularly in communications and mathematics," he said.

You could try to measure better, I suppose, as the report suggests. But some areas are difficult to measure and others are plagued by too many measures. As I was discussing last week businesses are already assessing our product -- they may wish we could somehow give them some assurances that graduates from XYZ State are proficient in certain subjects because the school is "accredited". But these individuals overstate what we can actually assess of what our students produce. Economics is exceptional insofar as we have national standardized exams with which we can make some statements. We don't have that in other disciplines, particularly those in the social sciences.

h/t: reader jw, who notes "this is my criticism of the liberal arts background of the students we get in business."

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