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Ranking Colleges
Small Michigan College Takes the Lead on College Assessment

Michigan’s Kalamazoo College has recently taken a step that we’ve long advocated here, in a bid to increase enrollment: publicizing student test results. In 2005  Kalamazoo joined a number of other schools in a longitudinal study where students were given similar tests at the beginning and end of their stay to measure how much they improved in the interim. Kalamazoo did well, with results in the 95th percentile.

The school is publicizing the results to prove to prospective parents and students that attending a small liberal arts college in Michigan wouldn’t be a waste of their time and money. The college may not be high-profile or elite, but the test proved that it can be effective at teaching. Some now wonder why other schools don’t follow suit; only a small few have so far. The WSJ reports:

That lack of information is “this huge paradox sitting at the center of higher education,” said Richard Freeland, Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education. At most schools, “we don’t really know what learning is going on.” […]

When John Chipman, the father of a high-school senior recently accepted to Kalamazoo, learned of the school’s performance this week, he was impressed, but he wished he had data from other schools. “We’ve visited eight or 10 schools so far,” he said. “Would it be nice to have some data to look at to be able to compare how well these schools are really teaching? It would be a huge help.”

When paired with data on tuition prices and post-graduation salaries, this kind of testing system could help parents identify quality, budget-friendly schools. What’s more, the longitudinal nature of the study helps give non-elite colleges a fair shake by differentiating the quality of instruction at a school from the quality of the students they accept.

We like this approach, but colleges could take things further. Why not allow students to use their scores on these or similar tests in job applications? A national college testing system would level the playing field in the job market and could help students at lesser-known schools prove themselves based on what they know rather than where they went to school.

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    K-12 Teachers and College Faculty all resist standardized student testing because this is the measure of their teaching skills. While teachers feel they have the right to judge and grade their students, they fear having the same thing done to them. Obviously half of all teachers have below average teaching skills, while all teachers think they are awesome teachers and dread finding out that they suck. LOL

  • BrianFrankie

    Chances of this sort of assessment spreading usefully among colleges and universities is close to zero. The only colleges that can gain from this are small lib arts schools like Kalamazoo College. Can you imagine Harvard submitting to an assessment of this nature? And then finding out that they actually rank in the 5th percentile, having taught their students absolutely no useful skills? OK, I admit that is a bit snarky (plus I went to one of those “other” Ivies, where part of the deal is I am always supposed to target Harvard). But the point is undeniable – the majority of modern liberal arts education is worthless. Heather MacDonald is the best scribe on the subject:

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