At the Chronicle of Higher Education, Gayle Greene explains what a nightmare reaccreditation has become for colleges. It used to be fairly pro-forma, but now the process is so involved that the college had to higher a special administrator just to lead the endeavor, which consumes many hours of faculty time.
Every professor and administrator is involved, and every course and program is brought into the review. The air is abuzz with words like models and measures, performance metrics, rubrics, assessment standards, accountability, algorithms, benchmarks, and best practices. Hyphenated words have a special pizzazz — value-added, capacity-building, performance-based, high-performance — especially when one of the words is data: data-driven, data-based, benchmarked-data. The air is thick with this polysyllabic pestilence, a high-wire hum like a plague of locusts. Lots of shiny new boilerplate is mandated for syllabi, spelling out the specifics of style and content, and the penalties for infringements, down to the last detail. . . .
A guideline is circulated explaining the difference between outcomes and objectives, to make sure we know it’s outcomes, not objectives, we’re being asked to produce. “Objectives are generally less broad that [sic] goals and more broad than student learning outcomes.” I do a Google search because I’m still confused, and sure enough, there’s a boatload about this online.
Outcomes are “what a student must be able to do at the conclusion of the course,” explains an online source, and in order to assure these, it is best to use verbs that are measurable, that avoid misinterpretation. Verbs like write, recite, identify, sort, solve, build, contract, prioritize, arrange, implement, summarize, estimate are good because they are open to fewer interpretations than verbs like know, understand, appreciate, grasp the significance of, enjoy, comprehend, feel, learn, appreciate. This latter set of verbs is weak because the words are less measurable, more open to interpretation.
To guide you through this thicket of words, the National Assocation for Learning Outcomes Assessment produces a 27-page document titled To Imagine a Verb: The Language and Syntax of Learning Outcomes Statements.
This is of course just the university-level version of the Accountability Movement that has taken over American education. But in elemetary and high schools, Accountability is ultimately tied to standardized tests. Whatever you think of standardized tests, they at least anchor the process to something identifiable and countable. In the absence of standardized tests for college-level learning, the process floats on a sea of buzz words, with no obvious connection to anything.
And, to get back to one of my hobby horses, this is another symptom of our complete lack of agreement as to what educations is for, and what students are supposed to get out of it.