Can Any Test Measure College Graduates Learning?

By Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

Last month, Time Magazine and Minnesota Public Radio both interviewed me about the use of the Collegiate Learning Assessment PLUS (CLA+) as a measure of “workforce readiness.” For the uninitiated, the CLA+ is a reuse of the “College Learning Assessment,” created by Rand Corporation with support of several large philanthropies back in the 2000s. I wrote about the CLA in the Swail Letter back on November 18, 2011.

In short, I have never agreed with the premise that a singular test could truly measure what a student—any student—learned while in college. It’s like that Robert Fulghum poem that many of us have had on our walls at one time: “All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” How an organization, let alone a school of researchers, could wither four years of liberal arts, scientific, or other four-year postsecondary education into a number is a little beyond me. It’s one thing to use the SAT or ACT to give an indicator of college readiness (and we know that the correlation is still limited past the first year of college), but something completely else to try and do the same thing to gauge what a student learns in 1,800-plus hours of holistic instruction.

Now the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), the mothership for the CLA+, wants to expand the CLA empire and start charging students and universities to take yet another test at $35 a pop.

Here is what I said to Time Magazine:

“The idea of the CLA+ is to measure learning at various institutions and compare them. I don’t think that’s technically possible with such a diverse system of higher education. That’s based on the fact that all the curriculums are different, textbooks are different, and you’re expecting to get some measure of—in a very generic way across all ­curriculums—how someone learns in one institution compared to another. All institutions are different, and all of their students are different.”

READ MORE OF THIS SWAIL LETTER ON HIGHER EDUCATION

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