Monday, September 28, 2009

Another Problem with Standardized Tests

I loved this article. Todd Farley writes about the grading of standardized tests in an op-ed piece in the New York Times yesterday.

He points out the arbitrary nature of how writing samples are graded for standardized tests.

When I was a graduate student, I spent a couple of months grading MCAT essays. It was a horrible experience. (I imagine I signed a non-disclosure agreement. I hope it has expired!) What I discovered was just what Farley is talking about--scoring was, it seemed to me, completely arbitrary. I spent my summer trying to guess what score (1-6) the bosses would give the essays I was reading.

I could never discern exactly how to interpret their criteria. I usually could get close, but much of my summer was taken up by conferences trying to figure out why my scores were so far out of whack with others. I wonder if my students today would say that about my classes?

I suppose you could chalk it up to me being a 22 year old graduate student who didn't know what good writing was. You could also blame it on poor training by my supervisors. I don't know why I couldn't understand the rules, but I stuck it out because it paid pretty well.

It also gave me an immense amount of skepticism when it comes to looking at test scores. It made doubt their ability to tell us much about a person's competence.

Monday, September 21, 2009

$99 a month to replace us

Washington Monthly runs a piece hyping a new internet startup company that promises a college education for $99 a month.

I've seen this company hyped in a few other places recently. The argument is that education is just another commodity that can be traded on the internet. He argues that we are caught in a "debt fueled tuition spiral" and that we only traffic in information.

It hardly seems worthwhile to refute the ridiculous assumptions that underlie these claims. Whoever the PR people for are, they are doing a good job getting their message out.

We have always known that there is room for on-line courses in higher education. To imagine that there will be only on-line courses is a vision of education that promises a truly uneducated world.

Friday, September 18, 2009

We need a little content!

I have been meaning to post more often, but as usual, these first few weeks are always hectic.  

For example, I really wanted to sit down and write something about the COLS strategic initiative.  Koker talked about it on opening day.  I discovered that 65 people went on the retreat this summer to discuss it.  65?  I want to know how 65 people can get anything done, especially a room full of academics with agendas of their own!

I suppose we will hear more about it at the upcoming COLS meeting.

Anyway, I logged in to post this article from the Boston Globe.  It is an education professor complaining that knowledge has again gotten lost as the latest "skills" movement takes hold.  How can you "critically think" if there is nothing to think about?  

I feel this way myself -- students love to discuss, as long as it doesn't involve any preparation or careful analysis.  If you ask them to critically analyze an article, they balk.  If you want to talk about something without data, they are good at that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Colleges 'failing' to graduate students

The New York Times ran a story criticizing US College graduation rates.  They note that the national average at public universities is abysmal.

This isn't particularly new, as our own 6-year graduation rate is just over 50%.  However, the article notes that many good students are not going to the best schools they could, with high graduation rates.  Instead they opt for the nearby choice, thereby greatly diminishing their chances of success.

The example would be, I suppose, that an excellent student would decide not to go to UW Madison (graduation rate 78%) and choose to stay nearby, say at Oshkosh.  They would then be much less likely to finish.

The article goes on to note that better finances would help, as low income students drop out more often when tuition increases.  There is even a suggestion that colleges don't mind, because freshmen are cheaper than upper-class students, because they get stuck with pit-classes.  Failure generates more income--a perverse incentive!

They also raise the issue of culture, in that failing out of college has become acceptable.

Read and contemplate as we begin our new semester.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Opening Day 2009

Get ready for a new year!  Opening day ceremonies have wrapped up and we are starting tomorrow!

A few observations:  number of the day:  13.6 million cut from our operating budget over the next two years.  Pretty traumatic, but seemingly manageable.

Wonderfully short speeches from the administration today.   Art Rathjen didn't offend anyone. Petra didn't do her "I'm so hip" schtick.  No hoohaa from Tom Sonleitner. 

In the COLS meeting, John compensated for the lack of humor with his stories about probability and his mom.

It was also nice to see all the new hires this year.  John said there were 25 new tenure-track people starting this year.  

Finally,  a little reading.  The New York Times ran short comments by professors to introductory students about how to prepare.  

My own addition for UWO:

1. Make your own education.  Take the initiative and find the hidden gems at a place like ours.  The faculty do great work, but you have to work harder to make the kind of contacts that you need to be really successful here.

All advice is welcomed in the comments!