Sharpen those pencils and get ready. The Commission on the Future of Higher Education is poised to add a standardized test for college and university students as a means of collegiate accountability when it issues its final report.
The commission, which includes members with clear conflicts of interest – such as the chairman and CEO of Kaplan, Inc. – has been charged with “developing a comprehensive national strategy for postsecondary education.” However, standardized testing is a poor way to achieve their goals for the future of higher education.
Standardized testing in college is illogical. Presumably, students choose a school based on matching their interests and the institution’s strengths. M.I.T is not The Julliard School of Music any more than USF, with more than 200 majors and programs, is Amherst College – nor should it be. Creating a standardized test for college students limits their potential and advocates a “one-size-fits-all” approach to higher education.
In addition, as evidenced by this state’s experience with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), standardized tests foster an instructor mentality of “teaching the test.” No time to talk about Einstein and relativity or Coulomb’s constant and electrostatics – it is time for test prep. Colleges burdened with these tests and concerned about future enrollment will focus on achievement on this one measure above all else.
Globalization will continue to challenge our academic competitiveness, but take the creativity and critical thinking out of higher education and the result will be intellectual decline. Standardized tests would eliminate the focus on these vital elements that have been a hallmark of American academia for more than a century.
Proponents of such tests, such as commissioner Kati Haycock of the Education Trust in Washington, point to statistics to promote the cause. Haycock said in an e-mail to the New York Times, “Any honest look at the new adult literacy level data for recent college grads leaves you very queasy.”
While certainly alarming, illiterate college graduates and similar measures of academic inadequacy are indications of a breakdown in the education system long before college and must be addressed as such.
The truly alarming nature of the push for such a proposal is that these test results could decide future federal funding. While Commission chairman Charles Miller has indicated that he is not envisioning a program such as No Child Left Behind, where failing schools are penalized for not improving, this could easily change.
Standardized testing of college students is, at best, an ill-conceived idea. The best test of collegiate learning is not evidenced by Scantron results or a standard essay, but rather in the successes and failures of graduates in the marketplace.