Tuesday, December 03, 2013
What if Student Learning Counted in Performance Funding?
Communications majors can end up doing technical writing (clarity and completeness would be highly valued) or marketing communications ranging from telemarketing to web content (pizazz and persuasiveness regardless of accuracy highly valued).
Same with Math. Students can end up needing to be highly competent in a tightly limited range of operations if they're aiming to be Accountants or nurses; or broadly competent in a wider range of analytical situations (many other STEM fields).
I fear that assessment of competencies would really gum up the works.
If the metric we assess schools by is completion, then math & English will forever be "barriers". Topics like the humanities will always be considered a waste of time for people going into the trades.
Administrators & funders don't like the idea of measuring learning outcomes because it's messy, difficult, and involves difficult discussions with faculty. Faculty don't like it, because it decreases their autonomy.
The problem is that you can't separate student learning from grades from completion. You can work on helping students complete through nonacademic avenues, but that's only going to go so far. Eventually, things like Connecticut & Florida happen. Those faculty who want to be left alone lose their jobs.
Rather than having a genuine, difficult discussion about what a college educated student should know (and the even harder discussion about how to measure it), we get different groups of people talking past each other. "Everybody needs to know algebra, because it helps you think better" vs "Most people don't need to know algebra, and the math they teach in community college is algebra, so people don't need community college math. Let's get rid of it." I know similar conversations are happening in writing. We need to have the conversation about what all college students need to know. And it needs to be motivated by money or it won't happen.
The alternative is a society in which community college graduates are great workers, but horrible citizens. To me, that means the further death of the middle class.
This could be done on a small scale (performance on first test in 2nd semester calculus as an evaluation of 1st semester learning) or a larger one (performance on papers in junior-level classes as an evaluation of freshman comp).
Secondly, don't be so quick to dismiss "signalling". I suspect that many jobs require degrees for that reason alone and those employers might be the ones pushing for higher completion rates to get a larger pool of trainable persons at a profitable pay rate. They don't care what the student learned, except perhaps to come to class on time. It might be useful to really press employers about what they want students to have learned from completing their degree.
...completion is pretty obviously the best assessment of outcomes. If completion is a bad assessment of outcomes, it is because management has incentivized bad grading practices. Adding another test wouldn't change management practices; they're doing what they're doing for a reason.