Assessment, Remediation, Developmental Education

The following comes after reflecting on past meetings regarding developmental education that included a lot of time spent discussing cut scores for assigning students to remedial and developmental courses. So excuse the rambling, and somewhat jaded, perspective.

1. ACT primarily measures subject area content knowledge.

2. ACT is highly correlated with success in the freshmen year of college.

3. General education programs should promote higher order skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, global understanding, tolerance, etc….lifetime skills…not just content.

4. Many public school teachers still suggest that high school students blow off their senior year, forgetting what they learned the year before, so that when they get to college they end up struggling in subjects such as math, which needs continuous involvement in order for students to carryover what they have learned the previous year to the next year.

5. Some staff and faculty here state that we admit students from small rural schools who were valedictorians with a 4.0 GPA in high school but with less than 20 ACT scores.

Ok…is there something wrong with this picture?

If a student forgets the subject area content because they skipped that subject for a year, did they really learn the content in the first place? And if they didn’t learn the content, do they still have the higher order skills we promote in our general education curriculum?

My youngest daughter, when in 10th grade biology, had to memorize 3 pages of definitions for a test that was coming up; all removed from the context of application. She was in a panic, so I helped her for a week prepare for the test. She received 85% on the test. Two weeks later, I asked her to retake the test at home and graded it. She received 60%. Since being a teacher educator sometimes makes me a teacher’s worse nightmare, I asked my daughter to take the test one more time two weeks later (now 4 weeks from the first test); she grudgingly consented and she received a 45%. You can see where this is going. I took those results to the next parent/teacher conference and talked with the biology teacher about it, showing the 3 test scores. Interesting conversation.

I never questioned the higher order skills, however, since my daughter was definitely making great progress in those areas.

So I pose this question:

What are we measuring?

Does the measuring of subject area knowledge in higher education reflect that we are no different from a high school class where learning is a low level endeavor, i.e. knowledge based information absorption and regurgitation exercise…or do we believe and practice and assess in a way that reflects a belief that learning is a process that includes application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation where higher order and lifelong skills are developed and content actually ‘sticks.’

Does use of the ACT as a predictor of first year success in college reflect that our first year of college is no different from the high school years?

Are we penalizing ex-high school students for not remembering what they learned from the content areas by placing them in situations where they get more opportunities to memorize?

Yet, we value the higher order skills we say our gen ed curriculum provides…