Will coursework replace tests as learning gauge?

Universities look to papers and coursework as stronger assessments
By: | Issue: March, 2014
February 27, 2014

Institutions in nine states are experimenting with using papers and coursework—instead of tests—to judge whether students are learning skills employers need.

University representatives from these states will develop standards for judging students’ critical thinking, problem solving, intercultural competence and more. These skills were determined to be what employees most value in graduates, says Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

In 2010, AAC&U released Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Educations (VALUE) rubrics that measure students’ capacity on 16 essential learning outcomes as valued by employers, says Schneider.

University leaders in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon, Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Rhode Island and Utah will gather student work and write protocols for using the VALUE rubrics to analyze students’ achievement in the essential learning outcomes.

The goal is to change 21st-century assessment, Schneider says. “Today’s graduates are going to deal with unknown problems to which we do not know the answers.”

Standardized tests address scripted problems, she says. “Using students’ essays and reports as a means of assessment allows us to see how well they are working on new problems and questions.”

Examining student work also gives campus leaders the chance to see whether professors are giving students quality assignments that will build their capacity to deal with unscripted problems. “We should be asking students to engage in analytical reasoning, not take multiple choice tests,” Schneider says.

The effort is being funded by a $1 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant. Funds will also be used to build an online database where university leaders can compare the results from their states with others.