Confessions of a Departmental Chair on Assessment

  • Wendy C. Turgeon


Introduction: My college has been swept by the “assessment” wave, as have many, if not all, colleges in the United States. This passionate attention to assessment goes beyond the tools of classroom evaluation (tests, quizzes, papers) and has affected every aspect of academic protocol: courses, majors, programs, degrees. We now speak of a “culture of assessment” to indicate a thorough commitment to reflexive pedagogy and attentive program design. In its best sense, the assessment movement echoes higher education’s response to society’s call for accountability. We acknowledge that just as we continually assess our students within the classroom, we must also assess our programmatic commitment to the larger community. A “culture of assessment” runs deep into the central meaning of education for student, faculty, departments and the college. All aspects of the college experience must be developed so that there is an assessment protocol in place. However, when the “culture of assessment” devolves into its worst sense, faculty are concerned that the call for assessment at the university level may lead to the problems prevalent at the pre-college level with the legislation of “No Child Left Behind.” Here we have witnessed the potential for abuses of assessment so as to become a punitive and narrowly conceived tool of defining and measuring success. As reflected at the pre-college level, NCLB has been accused of using unilateral models to assess the performances of teachers and schools that ignore the contextual forces of the social milieu in which these schools live and operate and the durational nature of the educative experience. When a teacher or program is summarily evaluated on the basis of poorly designed and implemented assessment standards, we see the devastation that occurs for the students, teachers and schools alike. Living life under a microscope of persistent calibration can be enervating in ways that darken the soul of what we do.