Standardized test could ?become required

UNC-system students might have to add one more test to their planners if a pilot program administered next year is successful.

As part of the system’s five-year strategic plan, the Collegiate Learning Assessment — which tests critical thinking, problem solving and written communication skills — will be administered to freshmen across five system campuses in the fall.

Seniors on those campuses will take the assessment in spring 2014.

  • The UNC system’s strategic plan requires five campuses to administer the assessment.
  • UNC-Pembroke, East Carolina University, Appalachian State University, Fayetteville State University and Western Carolina University will test freshmen beginning this fall.

The test will have no effect on grades or transcripts, said Bobby Sharp, director of institutional research, assessment and planning at Appalachian State University, which ran trials of the program in 2008 and 2011.

The results will be used to analyze the effectiveness of a university’s curriculum in stimulating critical thinking, he said.

In its trial periods, ASU tested 100 volunteers who were given financial incentives, Sharp said.

Depending on the results of the pilot this fall, all UNC campuses could begin using the assessment, said Kate Henz, senior director of academic policy and funding analyses for the UNC system.

The system chose five campuses, including ASU and UNC-Pembroke, that were already using or planning to use the assessment, to participate in the program.

But the assessment has not been without its critics.

Andrew Koch, lead delegate for ASU to the UNC-system’s faculty assembly, said the test is superfluous because the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an accrediting body, already requires universities to administer robust learning assessments. Many departments use their own tests, he said.

“The CLA doesn’t capture the varied ways in which people learn, the varied subject matter that people study,” he said.

The test does not generate valuable information about how students are learning or how institutions can improve, he said.

Results also mirror SAT scores, Koch said, meaning students who are more proficient test takers in general will receive higher scores.

Still, Beverly King, interim assistant vice chancellor for institutional effectiveness at UNC-P, said previous assessment results have effectively shown whether UNC-P’s curriculum has contributed to a student’s critical thinking skills.

Although the test is rigorous, most students find it enjoyable, King said.

“I know students who have said, ‘Wow that was rather fun and interesting,’ because it’s an actual, hands-on scenario,” she said.

Sharp said the logistics of the pilot program will be discussed in the next couple of weeks with the five campuses.

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