UNC system considers more standardized tests

Faculty are raising concerns about a UNC-system proposal to increase use of standardized testing — which they say could harm university accreditation and quality.

The system is considering a more routine use of the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a measure of critical thinking, problem solving and written communication skills.

In the assessment, students are asked to solve practical problems. A student might be asked to assess a citywide drug issue by analyzing documents and developing a solution to the problem, said Chris Jackson, director of business development at the Council for Aid to Education, which administers the assessment.

COLLEGIATE LEARNING TEST

The Collegiate Learning Assessment uses a variety of measures. Students must complete:

  • Performance tasks, such as evaluating whether a company should purchase a plane model involved in a recent accident
  • Argumentative writing prompts, for which students must provide relevant reasons and evidence to support their views on topics

The system’s five-year strategic plan, which the Board of Governors will vote on Friday, aims to develop a more concrete method for measuring student progress and the effectiveness of instruction, said Paul Fulton, a board member.

But faculty are concerned that use of the standardized test could jeopardize universities’ accreditation and undermine faculty members’ autonomy with regard to instruction.

“We as faculty wish to avoid the No Child Left Behind teaching to the exam, which will decrease the ability of the faculty to be flexible and mold the curriculum to the needs of the student,” said Andrew Morehead, a chemistry professor at East Carolina University.

Accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits all system schools, partially depends on faculty responsibility for curriculums, which the assessment would mitigate, he said.

Belle Wheelan, president of the association, said the assessment is unlikely to hurt accreditation — but the status of schools will ultimately depend on how they use the results.

All system schools have used the assessment at some point in the past five years as part of a pilot program, Jackson said.

Universities decide how to implement the assessment and how results will be used to improve instruction, he said.

At other schools, students have taken the assessment once as freshmen and again as seniors, Jackson said.

The test is a reputable measurement of critical thinking, but it should not be the sole standard for gauging ability and instruction, said Andrew Perrin, professor of sociology at UNC-CH.

“More important is how our students will be doing 10 years in the future, in their private and public lives, and how they look back at their college lives,” he said.

Perrin and Morehead are also concerned that the assessment is a part of a trend toward a standardized curriculum across all campuses.

The system is eliminating similar courses across schools in light of budget cuts, Perrin said.

“They are not paying attention to the special character of each campus,” he said.

The board plans to hear more input from faculty before voting Friday on the strategic plan, Fulton said.

“Nothing is set in stone,” he said.

Contact the desk editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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