SAT for College Students?

By Pamela Bond

North Texas Daily

Feb. 22, 2006

College students might have to take standardized tests before graduating. The Commission on the Future of Higher Education is investigating the use of standardized tests to compare schools and demonstrate what students have learned.

Charles Miller, a businessman from Houston who was appointed as the commission’s chairman, sent a memo out earlier this month urging members to consider this issue.

“What is clearly lacking is a nationwide system for comparative performance purposes, using standard formats,” Miller wrote (courtesy of the New York Times news service). “There is gathering momentum for measuring through testing what students learn.”

Miller served as a Regent in the UT system from February 1999-2005. During that time, he proposed an “accountability plan” which was implemented to gauge the quality of departments. The plan did not include standardized tests.

However, it did include assessments in writing, math and critical thinking. UT would assess these areas in that order, according to John R. Durbin, secretary of the general faculty at that time.

But instead of giving everyone the same tests, the Regents decided in fall of 2001 to use assignments from certain core classes; that way, individual faculty members would deliver the assessment instead of a university-wide mandate. For example, for the first phase of writing, the final paper in the Rhetoric and Composition class would be doubled as a writing assessment, according to Durbin.

The program is now in its third year and on February 8, the Office of Institutional Planning and Accountability released its “Performance and Accountability Report.” Along with the statistics of Miller’s accountability plan, it gave results to an experimental Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) test, which students voluntarily took to test their performance and analytical writing skills. The scores of these were compared to the scores of their admissions tests, according to UT’s Vice Chancellor Pedro Reyes.

UT freshmen scored almost the same as the national average and the seniors scored above the national average.

“The starting point for this assessment is that conceptions of university quality should be influenced by improvements in student learning,” Pedro wrote in his summary of the CLA. “Although educational quality is often based upon such indirect measures as the test scores of entering students, opinion polls of experts, or available financial resources, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) bases its assessment on students’ demonstrated abilities.”

The CLA is a standardized test like one the commission might implement.

The 19-member commission for higher education, appointed by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, will report in August on the accountability, cost and quality of implementing a standardized testing program in colleges.

According to the New York Times news service, Miller also wrote that the tests should focus on skills such as writing, critical thinking and problem solving, unlike those required in public schools under the No Child Left Behind Act, which test knowledge in the main areas of science, social studies, math, reading comprehension and writing and punish schools with low average scores.

The purpose of these tests would be to establish what college students are, or are not, learning and scores would serve as a mark of comparison between colleges, wrote Miller.

Critics of the plan, such as David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges, disagree with the idea of subjecting all colleges – small, medium and large, public, private and religious, liberal arts, math and science – to the same tests.

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