Trying to Assess Learning Gives Colleges Their Own Test Anxiety

Tim Goral's picture

Eight years ago, leaders of the University of Texas set out to measure something few in higher education had thought to question — how much their students learn before graduation.

An unsettling answer emerged: arguably, not very much.

That conclusion is based on results from a 90-minute essay test given to freshmen and seniors that aims to gauge gains in critical thinking and communication skills.

The Texas flagship and a few hundred other public universities have joined a growing accountability movement in higher education, embracing this test and others like it that attempt, for the first time, to quantify collegiate learning on a large scale.

But the results have triggered a wave of rancor. Some college leaders are outraged that four years of learning might now be reduced to a single score. Lackluster results have seeded fresh doubts about the country’s vaunted system of higher education.

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