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Joseph Alutto: Standardizing college education ‘very difficult’

October 1, 2013

young.1693@osu.edu
testing

Some members of the OSU community have been reacting in various ways to the possibility of a standardized exit test.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

The pros and cons of instituting a standardized college exit test are prompting various reactions from members of the Ohio State community.

In an interview with The Lantern Sept. 23, OSU Interim President Joseph Alutto said the fact that college graduates do not have one standardized skill set is in some ways a “national problem.”

“We have such variance in the quality of the educational experience,” Alutto said. “The variance in the quality of the student experience from institution to institution is astonishing, and so you understand the drive for some standardized measure so that people can have a confidence that whatever they’re investing is worthwhile, but it’s a very difficult thing to do.”

One such voluntary test is the College Learning Assessment, CLA+ for short, which approximately 200 U.S. colleges and universities administer, according to The Wall Street Journal.

According to the exam’s website, the test allows recent graduates to “use their verified scores to provide potential employers with evidence of their work readiness skill,” giving students something measurable to show for themselves beyond grade point average.

Some OSU students said standardized tests are already prevalent in college and help employers see which students faced a tough curriculum.

“I’m a pharmacy student, so I have to take the PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test) anyway,” said Mike Kowalczyk, a fourth-year in pharmaceutical sciences. “It would be a good idea because OSU is a tougher school than most and it would help show that.”

The 90-minute long CLA+, created by New York City-based nonprofit Council for Aid to Education, is based on a 1600-point scale. By asking performance-based questions, the exam evaluates critical thinking, problem solving, scientific and quantitative reasoning, writing and the ability to critique and make arguments.

There are some students who believe a single standardized test like the CLA+ is too arbitrary of a benchmark because of the diverse nature of skills that college students have.

“How is an art major going to be able to do the same things that a history major or a CSE major is going to be able to do?” said Mitch Gerhart, a second-year in business administration. “There are so many different majors and so many different jobs that I don’t know how it would gauge anything.”

Alutto expressed a similar concern.

“A student passionate about art is going have a different set of skills than someone who is interested in engineering or someone whose passion is poetry or Middle East literature or psychology or business,” he said.

There are also other groups that have created tests to objectively test student performance. The Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation focused on higher education success based in Indianapolis and the MacArthur Foundation, an independent foundation based in Chicago that focuses on increasing knowledge, have both designed knowledge standardization and skill testing measures for graduates, and some companies, such as General Mills Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co., use their own applicant assessment tests.

One incentive for instituting a test is to form an objective indicator of student success. According to a report by The Economist last year, the average college GPA increased to 3.11 in 2006 from 2.52 in the 1950s and the average number of A’s distributed by professors has increased as well, leading some to believe grades may no longer be a fair indicator.

Other students, though, said adding a test to the post-graduation job search only adds challenges.

“When there’s such diverse offering of majors, how are you going to have one standardized test prove what they’ve learned? No job is a test — you don’t take tests for your job,” said Matt Janette, a fourth-year in international business and Arabic. “It’s ridiculous to add to the amount of studying that students already have to do, with the amount of pressure that people are already under. You’re not talking about getting into college, you’re talking about getting a job.”

Janette also raised other concerns with implementing a standardized measure.

“The other thing that’s scary, because you see it in high schools a lot, is being taught to the test — so instead of going to college and learning about the subject that you choose to learn about, you have to learn for this test and teachers will teach for the test because that’s how they’ll be judged,” he said.

Alutto said the real dilemma has been figuring out what a widespread test would cover.

“On the one hand, I’m very supportive of the notion that there ought to be some measures. It’s finding that that’s difficult,” he said. “The (Committee on Institutional Cooperation) decided it was gonna try to do that and we’re still in the middle of it but we spent two years just trying to figure out … how we would do that given the diversity of institutions represented just in the CIC. So when you try to do that on a national scale, it’s just not easy.”

The CIC is made up of all of the Big Ten schools — including University of Maryland and Rutgers University, which are set to join the Big Ten in 2014 — and the University of Chicago. It aims to share expertise, leverage campus resources and collaborate on programs, according to the CIC website.

Brian Rhea, a fourth-year in biochemistry, said he thought experience should mean a lot more than a test score.

“Out of all the standardized tests I’ve taken so far, I honestly don’t think I used much from those,” he said. “I haven’t taken any of those skills that I’ve studied for or learned for into any jobs I’ve applied for. I work in a research lab now and no standardized test has ever prepared me for what I’m doing there. I think experience is way more important than standardized testing and I think learning what you learn, not just learning for a test, is worth more than any standardized test.”

While the CLA+ is open to all students, OSU assistant vice president of media and public relations Gayle Saunders told The Lantern in early September it was still unknown if OSU would one day offer the test to students. The cost for universities to participate in the 2013-2014 CLA+ is $7,000 for the first 200 students and $35 per student thereafter, according to the CLA+ website.

 

Daniel Bendtsen and Caroline Keyes contributed to this story.


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