The Real Issue Pressing Higher Education: ‘Worth Claims’

In “Why the Current Conversation About Higher Ed Misses the Majority,” Jayson Boyers states that the current national conversations on college education focus only on the “traditional 18- to- 22-year-old student demographic.”  He notes that while many people like to talk about issues surrounding low enrollment and limited access and lack of financial support, the reality is that “the face of today’s college student is rapidly changing, and higher education must evolve in order to meet student needs.”   He cites statistics from the National Center for Education, where between 2000 and 2010 there was a “42 percent increase in the enrollment of students ages 25 and older,” and another study which determined that “51.3 percent of the nation’s college students today are considered financially independent.”

Boyers argues that room needs to be made in for the growing number of adult, nontraditional learners who seek access to quality higher education, and in order to improve the availability, quality and affordability of higher education, we need to recognize the increasingly important role that today’s independent student plays in the current educational landscape.

Two of the questions that Boyers feels we must ask ourselves are, “What are these students looking for in a degree, and how can we help them get there?,” and “What aspects of certain college programs attract adult learners?

In “Diverse Conversations: Current Issues in Higher Education,” Matthew Lynch also talks about education’s responsibility to change and respond to the spirit of the times.  Lynch interviewed Dr. Helen F. Giles-Gee, president of University of the Sciences, to discuss some of the current issues in higher education.

When asked, what are the major challenges facing American colleges and universities? Dr. Giles-Gee responded with 10, and similar to Boyer’s article, this list included “enrolling a more diverse college bound population, some of whom may be ill prepared for college-level work.”  When asked in what areas do American colleges and universities need the most help?, Dr. Giles-Gee responded , “with decreasing college bound populations, [and] greater competition from an increased number of colleges and universities.”


In response to the concerns about both the changing face of college students and the increasing competition among colleges and universities, it seems that what W. Kent Barnds describes as the transition from the question “is college worth it?” to “is this college worth it?,” might be the solution.  In “Is College Worth It? The Answer Could Be in the ‘Worth Claim’,” Barnds describes this question as that which “gets an inordinate amount of attention in the media and among those interested in higher education.”  Barnds talks about the countless hours and significant resources that colleges spend in an effort to prove worth.

In his opinion, it’s an inarguable fact that the experience and purpose of college enrich individuals, society, and our culture, and he believes that we should stop trying to prove or disprove it, and instead begin focusing on something students can benefit from.

In other words, Barnds makes it clear that students and families do not benefit from the question of whether or not college is worth it, however, they will benefit greatly by looking for a clear, compelling worth claim from each college. Instead of asking, “is college worth it?” they should ask themselves, “is this college worth it to me?”

Here is an example of what an effective “worth claim” would look like according to Barnds:

Worth claim: You will develop and gain the skills employers want most.
Symbols and language: Alignment between student learning outcomes and surveys of what employers want in new employees. Course descriptions in catalogs clearly and consistently listing skills developed and honed with each course offered, and providing evidence that skills are clearly developed more effectively.

Anticipatory action: College can clearly map what skills are developed, how, when and in which classes. Possession of these skills prepares graduates more effectively for a job. Recruitment messages emphasize that curriculum and learning outcomes focus on what matters most to students and to graduates.

Emotion: Skills developed during college are directly tied to what employers want — graduates and their education are valued by others.  What students/parents should ask themselves: Do I see structures and systems in place that support a college’s claim about why they are worth it?  How does the claim a college is making prepare me for the future?  Will the claim benefit me directly or is it aimed at others?  What advantage does the college’s worth claim give me?  What’s in it for me, based on my own goals and ambitions? Is the claim the college is making different from the claim made by other colleges?


Critical Thinking and Development of Understanding of Knowledge

As I begin this blog about “critical thinking” I thought that I would first provide my general orientation and perspective of the subject. By profession, I am an educational psychologist that was trained to think about educational topics such as “critical thinking” from a multi-psychological perspective that includes most fundamentally the developmental, learning, and assessment factors that impact how one learns particularly in educational settings. This means that when I think about fostering the “critical thinking” abilities of students in my college classes I first try to consider the following three questions:

(a) How does one learn to critically think about what they are learning?

(b) How does critical thinking develop over time within an individual (particularly in a short 15-week semester time-frame)?

(c) How does one assess and self-evaluate if one is thinking in a critical manner?  There are many other educational and psychological factors that relate to and influence the answer to these three questions such as: individual, group, and cultural differences among students; motivational levels and processes involved with learning; instructional practices and class activities initiated by the instructor; the quality of student-teacher relationships; and even influences of technology. As an educational psychologist, I believe that all these factors interact with one another, so in order to think critically about “critical thinking,” it is best to remember that critical thinking is a complex phenomenon made up of many components. So, where to begin?

My general plan is to try to use this blog to clarify my thoughts as I write about what I currently know about critical thinking and what I am learning about it during my tenure as one of the “Provisions Fellows” during this 2013-1014 academic year. So I thought I would start with writing about a “developmental” model of critical thinking that I find helpful in thinking about where many college students might be “developmentally” in the way they understand knowledge as they enter my classroom. In later blogs I hope to address some of the other factors related to critical thinking as listed above.

The developmental model I’ll be referencing is summarized in the chart below.

Levels of Epistemological Understanding

Level Assertions Knowledge Critical Thinking
Realist Assertions are COPIES of an external reality. Knowledge comes from   an external source   and is certain. Critical thinking is   unnecessary.
Absolutist Assertions are FACTS that are correct or   incorrect in their representation of reality. Knowledge comes   from an external source andis certain   but not directly   accessible, producing false beliefs. Critical thinking   is a vehicle for comparing assertions to   reality and determining their truth or falsehood.
Multiplist Assertions are OPINIONS freely chosen by and   accountable only to their owners. Knowledge is generated by human minds and   therefore uncertain. Critical thinking   is irrelevant.
Evaluativist Assertions are JUDGMENTS that can be evaluated and compared   according to criteria   of argument and evidence. Knowledge is generated   by human minds   andis uncertain but susceptible to evaluation. Critical thinking is valued   as a vehicle that promotes   sound assertions and enhances understanding.

Source: Kuhn, D. & Dean, D. (2004). Metacognition: A bridge between cognitive psychology and educational practice. Theory into Practice, 43(4), 268-273.

Kuhn and Dean (2004) argue that there is a natural developmental progression of how one understands knowledge through the first three levels of the model that is related to the cognitive development theory of Jean Piaget. In general, children before the age of 4 or 5 are realists because their understanding of the world is based on their “immediate reading” of what they see. As Kuhn and Dean state: “Beliefs are faithful copies of reality. They are received directly from the external world, rather than constructed by the knower. Hence, there are no inaccurate renderings of events, nor any possibility of conflicting beliefs, since everyone is perceiving the same external reality” (p. 270) and “critical thinking is unnecessary” (p. 272).

As children enter school, they naturally develop to become absolutists in the manner in which they think about what is known and view ideas as true or false, right or wrong, as established by some external source or authority. In school settings this has traditionally and primarily been teachers or textbooks, although one might argue that technology and access to electronic sources in various forms and formats has added an additional source of external “authority” of what students “know.” According to Kuhn and Dean, students believe “knowledge is an accumulating body of certain facts” (p. 271). Therefore critical thinking is simply “a vehicle for comparing assertions to reality and determining their truth or falsehood” (p. 272).

As students move into secondary level education there is again a natural progression of adolescents being capable of understanding that there can be multiple views and perspectives about knowledge generated and supported by others. At this stage in their cognitive development they become multiplists, or relativists, where anyone and everyone can have their own opinions, and one is no more right or wrong than another. “In a word, everyone now becomes right … this lack of discriminability is equated with tolerance: Because everyone has a right to their opinion, all opinions are equally right” (p. 271) and “critical thinking is irrelevant” (p. 272).

The last level of understanding knowledge from an evaluativist perspective requires an understanding that knowledge is often uncertain but various views can be evaluated according to a set of criteria and evidence and “critical thinking is valued as a vehicle that promotes sound assertions and enhances understanding” (p. 272). Kuhn and Dean argue that although there is a natural progress through the first three levels of how one understands knowledge, the last transition from multiplist to evaluativist is not a natural progress but often needs to be facilitated. In fact, they argue that many adults never become evaluativist in their understanding of knowledge but continue to understand knowledge at either an absolutist or multiplist level throughout their life. As Kuhn and Dean summarize this point they point out that: “It is helping young people climb out of the multiplist well that requires the concerned attention of parents and educators, especially if it is this progression that provides the necessary foundation for intellectual values” (p. 272-273). (emphasis added by this author)

This brings me to the major point of today’s blog. I believe that the major role of a college education is to foster a set of “intellectual values” based on sound critical thinking related to discipline knowledge. However, from a cognitive developmental perspective, college students and college professors are often at different levels of how one understands knowledge and thus how one values it. Many of the students that enter into our college classrooms enter with either an absolutist or multiplist developmental level of their understanding and value of knowledge. Yet most of their professors have been deeply trained during their doctoral studies to understand and value knowledge at an evaluativist level. Recognizing this developmental difference is important since within the context of any college course, college professors can be a determining force in helping their students move up to an evaluativist level of understanding through “concerned attention” to how they engage students in their classrooms to provide the “necessary foundation for intellectual values” related to the discipline subjects they teach. The shift in students’ understanding of how they can think about and value knowledge at an evaluativist level requires helping students to be metacognitive about the way they think. Helping students to be better at critical thinking goes hand-in-hand in helping students to learn to be more metacognitive and self-regulatory learners. I hope to reflect on these points in future blog posts.

Teaching Toward Internationalization

The topic for this Tuesday’s Provisions session was Teaching Toward Internationalization.  The four presenters included Fr. Christopher DeGiovine, Dean of Spiritual Life, Sr. Sean Peters, Director of Mission Experience, Aja LaDuke, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, and Terri Ward, Associate Professor of Special Education.

First to present, Fr. Chris and Sr. Sean discussed their experiences with taking students on mission trips, to places such as Honduras and Guademala, and the positive effects that trips like this have on students, as well as aspects that they struggle with, such as planning and considering what students can/will take from the experience.  The first step of the process, recruitment, seems to come easy enough, where staff are excited and inquire about participating in the trip, and where students who have gone on such trips in years past often return to go again or recruit their peers.  The difficult side of recruitment, however, is selling the fact that the trip’s duration is two weeks in a difficult living environment/climate/etc., and that it is directly following graduation in May, when both students and faculty are exhausted.  As far as pre-trip planning, Fr. Chris and Sr. Sean say that for the most part, students are willing to make the time commitment, and that pre-trip meetings are an opportunity to learn a little bit about the culture before the students arrive, as well as give the students a chance to get to know each other before they depart.  The difficulty in pre-trip planning, however, is in convincing the students that this pre-planning is an important part of the trip.  Fr. Chris explains that as much as you tell the students that it is going to be a life-changing experience, they still don’t think pre-planning is important.  If Fr. Chris could require it, he would make students learn a little bit of conversational Spanish beforehand, and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to come on the trip, because as he has made more and more trips, he feels like much is lost when the students do not have a basic understanding of Spanish.  The reality, however, is that this would exclude the majority of the population that decides to go on the trip.

As far as the experience itself, Fr. Chris and Sr. Sean find that the most difficult task is the struggle to find a balance in what the students take away from it all.  In Fr. Chris’s experience, more and more kids are not shocked at the sight of poverty, and exclaim “I know this…I’ve seen it on TV.”  He finds it distressing that the students have come to maintain such a distance between themselves and this “picture” that they are seeing, and he remarks that more and more students are taking out their iPhones to take pictures of the destitution.  The idea that this “picture” doesn’t include themselves is exactly the opposite of what the trip is trying to promote.  Fr. Chris explains that when the students see happy children who are happy to live their lives with little to nothing, contrasting with the commercialized poverty that students see marketed at home, also presents an obstacle.  The trick is to not get out of the experience “they have so little, yet they are happy,” going home thinking all is well, because this is not the reality, and one must be cautious that students don’t take this to be the whole truth.  On another note, Sr. Sean also finds that it is sometimes hard for students coming home, from the trip, where “they don’t fit where they fat before.”  She feels that it is almost easier for them to process the experience once they have returned home, but stresses the importance, and often difficulty, of finding someone who will listen to them talk about their trip, as they return from the trip and go home for the summer, separated from the Saint Rose community and those who participated in the trip with them.  To see some images from their international trips, click here: International Service Trip Slideshow

Next, Aja LaDuke presented on lessons learned from the International Leaders in Education Program (ILEP) at Saint Rose.  ILEP is a semester-long program sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of State and the IREX organization, where 4 or 5 colleges and universities around the country host 14 to 16 secondary level teachers (of ESOL, Math, Science, or Social Studies) from around the world.  The program requires them to participate in a customized academic seminar in which they complete a professional development module to use for training teacher colleagues at their home school.  They will also participate in a weekly technology workshop course, take two graduate courses in their discipline or other areas of interest on an audit basis, complete 90 hours of field experience in a local secondary school, and participate in trips and various social and cultural events on campus in the community.  When planning the seminar for Saint Rose, LaDuke explained that they were more focused on curriculum, pedagogy, and instruction than the broader scope of schooling system in the U.S.  Additionally, they were unaware of the English proficiency level of the fellows before their arrival.  Ultimately, they found that rather than help with English proficiency, the fellows craved more information about cultural norms in the U.S. regarding conversations and small talk.  Additionally, the program found that the fellows were beyond the level of planning lessons and choosing objectives, and that they were more interested in larger systemic differences between U.S. schools and those in their countries (i.e. less interest in differences in instruction).  In regards to technology, they were more interested in its use for motivating and engaging students, rather than reviewing for themselves in how to use it.  For more on LaDuke’s presentation, click here: ILEP – LaDuke.

To finish up the presentations, Terri Ward, Chair of Literacy and Special Education, talked about the growing world interest in Special Education.  Ward explained that as more and more education systems in other countries are developing, the more they are realizing that there is a population that they are denying access to, which is the reason for many students from these countries come to America for graduate school wanting to learn about the way our special education system works.  Ward works with international students in the graduate program, and commented about their love for practical experience rather than strictly theoretical work.  They want to know what the American System of special education is, so that they will be able to take it back home.  They are thirsty for strategies, as Ward puts it, but she does not want them to buy the American special education system hook, line, and sinker.  She does not want them to do it as America has already done (i.e. the Common Core fiasco), rather, she wants to dig into the system.  She wants to discuss questions such as: do we accept our higher education and secondary education systems as they really are?  Ward brought up the term of cognitive dissonance, which would then be talked much about in the following discussion, and commented on how struggling as the expert helps professors reflect on whether or not their program is internationalized.

Highlights from the discussion:

  • The idea of bridging the gap – being aware of our own cultural issues (i.e. poverty in the U.S., how it is similar/dissimilar to the poverty in Honduras)
  • The idea that cognitive shifts are not sudden, they take time.
  • The idea that everything must be put in cultural context, which is different for each culture – i.e. ADHD – not neurological, a cultural understanding and prescription
  • The idea that WE are the out-liers – in America, it is us who lives differently than the rest of the world
  • The idea that in internationalization experiences, not everything is going to be perfect and happy all the time – i.e. the need to adapt needs/goals for the ILEP fellows
  • “If you are not uncomfortable, I haven’t done my job” – positive stress – if you aren’t uncomfortable, you aren’t really learning
  • Some instances and experiences promote cognitive dissonance, others require the management of it, and others may require the dissonance to be sustained.

To hear the podcast for the session, click here.

the Humanities: Can we be anything but a cultural study?

In “Cultural Studies: Bane of the Humanities,” David Mikics, a professor of English at the University of Houston, voices his opinion about the real purpose of higher education: to pursue truth all on your own by putting students in the driver’s seat.  Mikics writes that students should be invited to challenge and decide if they agree with the great thinkers, which may change the way they think and, as a result, maybe even their life.  He notes, however, that challenges like these are rare, “in fact almost invisible these days in the humanities—not that they were ever common,” and he blames this on cultural studies.

Mikics states that the original motive for cultural studies, to try to understand the ways we think and act based on the influences that surround us, our culture, was a good one.  However, he argues that problems arose from the start: “What is our surrounding culture? Is it Lost and Breaking Bad, the iPhone and Stephen Colbert, Twitter and Facebook?”  His argument is that while he might be fond of Breaking Bad (or something else of the like), he wouldn’t call them governing influences on his life, and that while cultural studies may have begun with a broader emphasis on social life, it now “spends much of its time focusing on the products we enjoy, and assumes that those products shape our thinking.”

Mikics argues that how a person sees the world “depends on what she believes, not what she consumes.”  He equates culture to air, says we take it in without choice, but that “it’s not nearly as decisive in telling us who we are, as many these days think it is.”  He claims it is almost impossible to deduce someone’s beliefs from the ambient culture, because belief is individual.  The problem that he sees lies in how “teachers prefer to argue in favor of culture’s constraints on us, rather than seeing how someone comes to a personal belief, often against the dictates of culture.”  Mikics comments that when this happens, teachers have lost sight of the true meaning of education, its power to change lives.

Mikics struggles with what he claims to be cultural studies insistence that we aren’t as autonomous as we think we are; that we’re ruled by forces beyond our control.  If it is a real classroom, he continues, it disproves this point, because students and teachers give themselves the power to decide what they really think, rather than just signing on to the ideas that surround them, or nodding assent to what they’re supposed to believe, and by figuring out what they think, students become different people, right there in the classroom.

The biggest obstacle to humanistic education in the 21st century is that books, according to Mikics, have become tools for making predictable references to big concepts (capitalism, gender, modernity) rather than what they should be, guides to life.  The challenge lies in not presenting theories as tool kits, but instead, as a way of seeing the world. He writes that if education is not concerned with how we see the world, it’s failing us, neglecting its most important mission.  He fears that the power to use books to redefine their lives is being taken away from the students, robbing them of choosing a picture of the world that they think is the right one, as well as figuring out what kind of life they want to have.


In “Crisis in the Humanities?,” David Silbey talks about a “crisis” of the humanities via a Wall Street Journal article about a Harvard report detailing the falling enrollments in the humanities disciplines.  Silbey reports that the conclusion they have apparently come to is that humanities enrollments are collapsing because the degrees don’t immediately lend themselves to post-graduate jobs.  Silbey comments that you need the data to really sell a crisis, but the data provided makes clear that the “Humanities in crisis” story is “seriously overstated.”  Firstly, Silbey writes, anyone who looks at the chart will notice that nothing serious is going on in the humanities right now, and that the real collapse of humanities enrollments happened in the 1970s.

Silbey comments that even if the drop is old news, it does succeed in making the humanities appear massively out of date: “If we’re not declining, we’re still past the time of our relevance,” a compelling story for many people, making humanists feels as though “some pathology in the culture at large has them under siege.”  According to Silbey, we shouldn’t be assessing the health of the humanities by “market-share metrics that are far more about demographics and the changing face of higher ed than they are about the intellectual shifts in the disciplines themselves.”  He faults humanists for the fact that they get great pleasure from describing themselves on the knife’s edge, but are not especially effective at mobilizing the language of crisis to actually advance their fields.

In “A Manifesto for the Humanities in a Technological Age,” Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg seem to address the job of cultural studies, as Mikics critiques, to be the solution of the fleeting “relevance” of the humanities that Silbey talks of.

In their Manifesto, Davidson and Goldberg address (global economic adviser) Jeffrey D. Sachs’ statement that insisted that interdisciplinarity was the only way to solve world problems, with the exclusion of the humanities (and the historical, comparative, and critical analyses the humanities provide) from his list of disciplines.  Davidson and Goldberg write that not many would deny that support for the humanities is declining in an environment in which “universities are increasingly ordered according to the material interests, conditions, and designs of the sciences, technology, and the professions.”

They, however, contend “that if ever there were a time when society was in need of humanistic modes of inquiry, it is today,” and “more than ever, we require the deep historical perspective and specialized knowledge of other cultures, regions, religions, and traditions provided by the humanities.”


A Wordle created using Davidson and Goldberg’s “Humanities Manifesto”

They pose the questions: Is there a place for the humanities in the contemporary university? If so, what place? And what kind of humanities?

Here is a condensed idea of what Davidson and Goldberg see as the function and value of the humanities:

  • We believe that a new configuration in the humanities must be championed to ensure their centrality to all intellectual enterprises in the university and, more generally, to understanding the human condition and thereby improving it; and that those intellectual changes must be supported by new institutional structures and values.
  • Humanities departments have been transformed in many different directions, with many different emphases, but all show the marks of such crosscutting interdisciplinary areas as ethnic studies, gender studies, cultural studies, and new kinds of area studies or global studies; critical theory has broadened the base of reading into philosophy, sociology, ethnography, anthropology, and political and social theory.
  • We are saying that new interdisciplinary paradigms help us uncover whole new areas and objects of study that, in turn, complicate the paradigms. Rather than denounce some of this work as “present-ist,” humanists need to embrace the complications of interdisciplinarity. Those outside the humanities should draw on the humanities as they do the same.
  • We need to bring to the surface for our administrators, and our university public-relations officers, how much the distinctive underpinning of the modern research university (as well as of the liberal-arts college) is the humanities. The university that loses its foundation in the humanities loses, in effect, its most important asset in making the argument that “education” and not “vocational training” is worth the support of taxpayers, foundations, and private donors.
  • History matters. The humanities at once reflect and depend upon historical scholarship.
  • Relationality reveals. The relational view — socially, conceptually, historically — that the humanities bring to the table provides insights and perspectives not otherwise available.
  • Conscience and critical memory trouble. The humanities serve as the conscience and memory of intellectual and social life, and of the academy itself. The humanities both reflect the world and its representations, and serve to reflect critically upon them.
  • Creativity counts. The humanities and the arts are vital to one another, coterminous and codependent. They support, shape, and inspire each other. After all, both are concerned with representation, with signification and interpretation, with value and evaluation, as well as with the conditions that make those things possible
  • Social policy contains social assumptions and values. The humanities, social in character even if all too readily hermetic in practice, can help delineate the assumptions and values in social arrangements.
  • Communication clarifies. If we in the humanities are to insist upon the privilege of informing critical policy making, we must promote dialogue in clear and concise ways. We bring — or surely can bring — to the table interpretive and critical skills: an ability to analyze formal structures; to reveal hermeneutic content; to highlight critical values.
  • Diversity is important. The humanities have been the principal (and for the most part the principled) site of diversity and diversification in the academy, both demographically and intellectually.
  • The humanities and new technologies. The humanities have a central place in exploring the possibilities, the reach and implications, of digital technologies and cultures: how technology shapes what we think about the human and the humane.
  • The humanities provide the social and cultural contexts of the creation and application of knowledge, the critical reflections upon how knowledge is created and what its effects and implications are. The humanities promote a broad range of social and cultural literacies.

Lastly, Davidson and Goldberg note that the humanities offer “critical civic competencies, ways of comprehending cultural and technological values, and the worlds such values conjure.”  In other words, the humanities offer ways ways of world making.  How could we do without them?  According to Davidson and Goldberg, a world without the humanities would be a world “narrowly limited and limitlessly narrow.”

“Whence all this passion toward conformity anyway?”

In “A Student Says No to Standardized Testing,” Taylor Lannamann talks about one facet of American life that can’t seem to escape the plague of standardization: education.  Lannamann takes us through growing up with educational standardization, beginning with the tests in middle school and high school, “one of the many ugly faces of No Child Left Behind” where “students and teachers lost hours of class time in an attempt to receive funds,” to the SATs, “which hung over us like lead X-ray smocks, constricting safety blankets keeping us inside the small realm of accepted educational paths.”  

Lannamann writes that for many students, standardized testing ends after the SAT, but now, as a college senior, she finds herself “staring down the barrel of the GRE,” asking herself, “do I really want to do this?”  While wondering why she must take a standardized test to study creative writing, she asks “Will memorizing the quadratic formula help me prove my ability to craft narrative? Doesn’t taking a standardized test undermine an integral component of the field, the “creative” side of writing? How often do you hear of creativity blossoming in a standardized, uniform environment?”

standardized testing

For Lannamann and many others, creativity means breaking away from such monotonous practices.  Upon learning that many strong M.F.A. programs in creative writing do not require the GRE, she thought she saw progress and interpreted it as a “departure from archaic standardized testing.”  However, college seniors find themselves facing  yet another standardized test, the recently created Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+).

The CLA+ hopes to test exiting seniors to gauge their ability to “access, structure, and use information.”   Lannamann notes that on its web site, the Council for Aid to Education states: “Over 700 institutions—both in the United States and internationally—have used the Collegiate Learning Assessment to benchmark value-added growth in student learning at their college or university compared to other institutions.”

Lannamann invites us to look at the word “benchmark:” “Does it belong in the discourse of education? Learning and teaching is a give-and-take process, a dialogue between teacher and student. How could this possibly be measured by a standardized test? Do we, as students, want our educational experiences defined in terms of “benchmarks,” statistics, quantitative information?”

Lannamann is terrified that the world is becoming “a place where people rely on statistics rather than genuine human connection.”  She argues we need to recognize the validity of educational diversity, because people learn in all different ways, and that is a teacher’s job to connect with students in an attempt to discover the most effective way of teaching.  In the same way, Lannamann stresses that her college degree will mean something different than her friends’ degrees, as “certain distinctive areas will have taken center stage for me while different concepts will have resonated for others…[so] What will this look like on a standardized test? It will be inaccurate, it will be reductive, and it will be unjust.”


Lannamann asks for society to say no to standardized testing, but coming at it from the other side, in “Private-Colleges Group Says a Standardized Test Improves Teaching and Learning,” Dan Berrett reveals the results of a report released that claims the CLA, a standardized test of critical thinking, can be an effective tool for changing teaching and learning in the classroom.

Berrett reports that in a study coordinated by the Council of Independent Colleges, the CLA, was administered to about 7,500 students by 47 small liberal-arts institutions between the fall of 2008 and the spring of 2011, and while the students’ actual results on the test have not been made public, council officials said the students produced CLA scores that met or exceeded expectations, and that most of the colleges will continue using the CLA on their own.

Berrett explains that the CLA is one of several tests in use by colleges in response to public demands for measures of student learning.  He also notes that the colleges in the council’s study used the CLA to spark changes in teaching and learning, the report says, where, in response to their institutions’ CLA scores, several campuses “started workshops on the pedagogy of writing and critical thinking,” and others “recognized weaknesses in their curriculum that were not as readily apparent before the test.”  Harold V. Hartley III, senior vice president of the council, stated that once faculty members got a closer look at the CLA, they saw that it could be a good measure of student learning, and called the test “a practical way of measuring learning…a test worth teaching to.”

Berrett writes that “supporters of the test also say it measures the kind of critical thinking, problem-solving, writing, and analytical-reasoning skills that students are likely to need in the real world,” and that skeptics say “the test is too far removed from the content that students have to learn in college… [and] they question whether the results are truly reliable, since students never receive their scores and have little motivation to do well.”

Lastly, Berrett notes that the report argues that “self-generated efforts to adopt tests like the CLA offer a better way for colleges to respond to calls for accountability, as compared with mandates from the outside, like the measures that have been put in place at the primary and secondary levels.”  So, does the argument, that a test is worth teaching to, hold up?

Check out the article “My GRE Score Says I’m Smart.  Hire me.,” also by Dan Berret.

In “Value Added,” Kevin Carey states that the CLA is not the be-all and end-all of college assessment, rather “a general assessment of analytic reasoning, critical thinking and communications skills that doesn’t measure mastery of the disciplines.”  Carey states that there is room for measurement and sampling error, like any standardized test, but that “it should be the beginning of much more attention to how much students learn while they’re in college,” and that “this is how we ought to be thinking about success and prestige in higher education.”

Carey claims that the CLA results highlight “severe limitations in the way we credential college students, and the vast differences in ability among students who are all pushed through a system that in many ways assumes they’re the same.” He gives the example of the bias in the premium given in the job market to degrees from highly selective institutions: the bright student who, for financial or family reasons, chooses to attend college at a local four-year institution, except in a state that doesn’t publish value-added measures like the CLA, works hard, and graduates at the top of the class.  Without “value-added measures” like the CLA, Carey claims that the student is not rewarded for this because “the market cares little about college grades because they’re opaque and inconsistent,” and, conversely, the guy who finishes last at the Ivy League school is over-valued in the market.


Carey writes that sample-based measures like the CLA are only the beginning; “what we really need to do is start attaching a lot more useful information to individual college credentials while also making the credentialling process itself more open and flexibile, less about having been taught by some kind of formal institution and more about having actually learned something real.”

Do you say no to standardized testing?