Critic Says Collegiate Learning Assessment Will Not Work

November 20th, 2011

Measuring Learning

By Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute/EPI International

This week’s InsideHigherEd.com article, CLA as ‘Catalyst for Change,’ talks about the seven-year project by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) to use the CLA, or the Collegiate Learning Assessment, to measure learning in a test-bed of its member institutions. The purpose of the project is to help “propel” reform on campus through its findings and comparisons.

It is a noble idea. But it won’t work.

The CLA, created by contractor RAND Corporation, is a tool designed to measure what students have learned, on average, at institutions of higher education. So, think for a moment—given the grandeur of the American Higher Education System (corp?), the massive variation between colleges and universities, departments, satellites, and more—how can one instrument tell us the “value added” of students in higher education?

It can’t, and that’s the problem.

The CLA was created to measure value added before and after going to college. The problem is, naturally, the variance in institutions and programs is so wide, and the experiences so distant—even within one institution—one measure like the CLA is almost meaningless. There is no “average” learning effect in higher education, because everyone takes a different set of courses, from a different set of instructors, using different sets of resources. There is no “average” learning. And the CLA can’t pretend to be a measure of this learning.

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One Response

  1. Matthew says:

    Tend to agree that its not practical to test like this. However, I would like to see some kind of real ranking replace all the national magazine rankings that dominate people’s thinking about colleges. Too many people base their perception of a college based on these rankings that aren’t backed up by any kind of hard data.

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