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As a faculty member teaching freshman calculus, I was recently asked to participate in an assessment program. The aim of the program is to "design assessment procedures to measure student learning". This year's program is a pilot and they are asking for volunteers; in the future, participation will apparently become required.

To make a long story short, the instructions are intended to be simple and involve a minimal amount of hassle, but for my course would not be. (In particular, we were told to accept a homework assignment over Blackboard, which is not easy as my students work in pencil and paper and may not have ready access to scanners.)

The drawbacks of this assessment program are obvious to me: they create hurdles for me and, even more significantly, for my students. I would rather spend time on my research and on helping students. And certainly my students would rather do something other than try to find a scanner.

What are the benefits? I can think of a cynical answer: it gives paper-pushers fodder for reports, and allows them the warm glow of feeling that they are accomplishing something. Are there less cynical answers? In particular, is this type of information frequently used to identify and make constructive improvements to undergraduate curricula?

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    The actual benefits or the aspirational benefits? I mean, a real, cross-cohort measurement of how you're doing couldn't hurt and might be put to good use. But I always want to grab someone and shake them until they tell me how this differs from my testing the student's progress in class? Perhaps you'll get a some good answers. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 23 '15 at 1:33
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    Accreditation ? – Mad Jack Sep 23 '15 at 2:01
  • Surely if this is a pilot program these are the sorts of things you should feedback, e.g. this is not a minimal amount of hassle. That way maybe the system will be changed, rather than forcing everyone to do the same stupid things you dislike in future. – nivag Sep 23 '15 at 8:28
  • You've said things elsewhere which suggest that you're in the US. Scanners (i.e. phones with cameras) are fairly ubiquitous in the US. – Henry Sep 23 '15 at 17:29
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    @Alexandros: I assign a fairly high volume of problems, many of which are to be accompanied by pictures. It would take a lot of time even for me to typeset an entire assignment. – Anonymous Sep 23 '15 at 18:37
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People who promote quantitative education assessments believe that "educational achievement" is a valid research construct (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educational_assessment) With the proper instruments (a.k.a. tests and scoring systems), and with proper analysis (norms, scales, etc.), they believe it is possible and useful to draw inferences about the education system as a whole, or in part.

Broadly speaking, the advocates of standardized testing strongly believe that the only way to improve the education as a whole is to have "objective" measures of "reality" across teachers, across departments, across schools, across geographies. This "ground truth" data provides the basis for deciding what works and what does not, and for determining who is effective as educators and who is not.

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