Monday, November 12, 2007

"Tests" to measure UW schools

Just as we knew would happen, VSA has hit the media and is being presented primarily as a resource based on those standardized tests. The story tosses in the caveats about testing, even with a quote from our illustrious chancellor.

Although it mentions the rest of the profile, it is clear that the test numbers will be the only thing in the public sphere. How long before legislators decided to make funding decisions based on our performance on those tests?


Anonymous said...

UW Oshkosh already does poorly on the NSSE tests which are part of the VSA. Parents of good students are not going to want to send their daughters and sons to a school with low NSSE scores yet few faculty seem to care. Where is the discussion about improving those scores? Most faculty shrug their shoulders and teach as they have taught in the past.
Most faculty I know feel they are doing their job and teaching what they are supposed to be teaching regardless of what a test score says.

Why should reaction to a new standardized test be any different?

And if you do worry about what the test scores say think about what message they send to prospective students and their families. If you want good students then you better have a good test score

Lammers said...

It's a bit of a vicious circle, don't you think? We can't get good students with low NSSE scores, but we can't get good NSSE scores with poor students.

EVERY call for educational reform I have ever seen, from pre-school through graduate school, is predicated on the assumption that students want to learn and that if we instructors could only come up with the proper rituals and incantations, they will. This is why such reform seldom works: it is based on a seriously *flawed* assumption.

Very few of our students WANT to learn. Yes, they want what an education brings in life, but they aren't really much interested in learning, per se. They take the "broccoli approach" to education: "I don't like it, but its good for me, so I'll hold my nose and do it." If they could short-circuit around the whole educational process and get right to the material rewards, 99% would do it in a heartbeat.

It's a hackneyed phrase but it's true: "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." All the cool innovative creative pedagogy in the world isn't worth a plugged nickel if the students in the chairs don't want to learn. And if they haven't developed a love of learning by the time they are 18, there's not a lot we can do about it.

As long as we delude ourselves about why students are in college, we will not likely make much headway.

So, yes, I am going to go about my business as I have: presenting what I feel is essential information in a well-organized, precise, and clear fashion; and giving students opportunities to exercise their problem-solving, analytical, research, and compositional skills.

I am not going to chase after the latest pedagogical fad like a crazed teenybopper after a pop singer. Every educational bandwagon I've ever seen has square wheels and a broken axle. No thank you.

Students who want learning can have it from me in abundance. The rest? "As ye sow, so shall ye reap."

Anonymous said...

yep, most faculty would reply with some varation on the above themes myself included. As I said in the previous post, most faculty will shrug and continue to teach their classes as they see fit.

The problem though is that the university will be evaluated according to these tests and prospective students will make choices based on these tests and, as Winneblogo fears, funding may be allocated on the basis of test results.

So maybe faculty should be having a discussion on how to improve test results.

The university can create its own evaluation system or it can have one forced upon it. Either way, the university will be evaluated no matter how flawed the evaluation mechanism and poor evaluations can have consequences

Lake Winneblogo said...

I am really tired of the either we do it or someone will do it to us argument.

Every time we give in to that rhetoric, we lose. I think VSA is just going to be another one of those.

Why can't we stand our ground for something we believe in?

lammers said...

Lake Winneblogo wrote: "Why can't we stand our ground for something we believe in?"

Horatius Cocles at the Sublician Bridge has always been a favorite story to me ...

Anonymous said...

So am I correct in understanding that you are both opposed to any kind of rating system?

As college education becomes more expensive, demand will increase for some kind of rating system that allows them to compare choices.

Fighting that trend is a losing game.

lammers said...

I have no philosophical opposition to objective data accurately gathered and honestly interpreted. I am never afraid of facts.

What I fear is the sort of slipshod, misleading, skewed interpretations that result from studying an extremely complex multi-dimensional institution like a university and reducing that complexity to one number. Anytime data are summarized, information is lost. That's a given. But some sorts of summarization distort the picture far less than others. I've always preferred principal components analysis to cluster analysis for this very reason.

Re: my specific post, any sort of summarization of a university's "product" that does not take into account the calibre of the "raw material" is going to be misleading. It is a specious assumption to act as though every high school graduate is equal in knowledge, motivation, interest, abilities, experiences, socioeconomics, etc. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Most importantly, it is axiomatic that you can't teach someone something he doesn't want to know.

Anonymous said...

Any attempt to measure the quality of output of a university will have inaccuracies. I agree with you on that, but that is not the point.

The point is that the expectation of a measurement is there.

So might as well design our own imperfect, inaccurate metric than have an inaccurate one forced upon us by people who do not teach college students.

The VSA is well on its way to being adopted so maybe its time to have a discussion on how to amke it work for us.

By the way, NSSE and some of these other tests claim to be able to measure the (sort of) what average students learn, they do not claim that all college freshmen or seniors are alike (I think it is a load of BS myself)

Anonymous said...

According to the Economist magazine, the OECD is developing a test that will allow comparison of university performance across countries. A sign of the general trend towards rating universities on educational results.

Anonymous said...

It is really a sign of our own academic decay when the diploma holds no meaning, unless accompanied by a standardized test result.

Unfortunately, careerism, retention pressures, and sheer laziness have allowed our standards to disappear.