Standardized Test Proposal for Texas Colleges Stalls

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A proposal requiring Texas public universities to administer a standardized test, one that has been the subject of significant national debate, appears to be stalled, but the debate over the assessment appears to be far from over.

The Collegiate Learning Assessment, launched in 2000 and run by the Rand Corporation's Council for Aid to Education, purports to measure the critical thinking, writing and analytical skills gained in college by testing students as entering freshmen and exiting seniors. It has been a major flashpoint in higher-education circles since the 2011 release of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, a book by social scientists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. They found that more than one-third of those who took the test did not show significant improvement in these areas over four years in college.

This caught the attention of one of the state's most influential conservative think tanks, the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, which has been active and occasionally controversial in higher-education policy discussions. Thomas Lindsay, the director of the TPPF's Center for Higher Education, has been pushing awareness of the test for the last year and hoped that Texas might become among the first states to mandate that all public university students take the test when they enter and exit college.

Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, filed Senate Bill 436, which would have established such a requirement. But it appears Lindsay and Birdwell will have to wait at least another biennium. Birdwell told the Tribune that the bill, which is pending in the Senate Higher Education Committee and expected to remain there, “lacks the requisite support to pass this session.”

In the committee's public hearing on the bill, Lindsay said the test would help the state more accurately evaluate its higher-education system. "Grade inflation is ravaging our universities," he said, noting that administering the same evaluation to all students would allow for "truly apples to apples comparisons" of their gains in higher education.

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