We had quite an interesting conversation this summer about Centers for Teaching and Learning, and their evil twin timewaster, “assessment.” For those of you who aren’t yet in the know, “assessment” is an administrative exercise in which faculty have to find data to prove that their departments and programs are effectively educating students.
Never mind that your department has 600 majors despite having only 24 tenure lines. Never mind that you, all of you, several times a semester administer quizzes, tests, and essay assignments to your students, which you then “assess” so that you can assign them “grades.” Never mind that you take all of those graded assignments and use them in your individual, personalized assessment of each student at the end of the term, which you deliver in the form of a “final grade.” Never mind that a whole bunch of your majors manage to graduate every year, and that they’re replaced by even greater numbers of enthusiastic majors. That’s not enough evidence that you’re doing your job! No, you have to find “data” outside of numbers of majors, the grades they receive, and their graduation rates.
Well, I have nothing new or more positive to offer than this incisive critique of assessment by an anonymous faculty member at a large Southeastern university (via Rate Your Students–stop me if you’ve heard this one before!)
The money quote is at the end:
The appetite for data is only strong when the decisions about power and paradigm have already been made.
Those of you who have been roped into assessment excercises before will know exactly what that means. What I want to know is: what other industries demand “assessment” beyond the obvious proof that products are being produced and/or sold, clients are being served, buildings and roads are being built up and torn down, and that money is being made. Is it because our work doesn’t have an obvious bottom-line monetary value that we’re forced to engage in these redundant exercises that take time away from our time and energy to serve students, publish research, and improve our teaching by reading a recently published book or two? Just asking.