Assessment Anxiety in the Air

May
2007
Mark Wade Lieu, Chair of the Consultation Council Assessment Task Force

The approval of a motion on assessment by the Board of Governors at its March 6, 2007, meeting has set off waves of anxiety across the system. As the chair of the task force approved by the Consultation Council to address the Board of Governors' motion, I hope to alleviate some of that anxiety by clarifying what the motion is asking for, what I perceive to be the motivations of the Board, and what the task force convened by the Consultation Council to respond to the motion is going to do.

To begin, here is the Board's motion in its entirety:

The Chancellor is directed to begin the process of evaluating the implementation of a systemwide uniform, common assessment with multiple measures of all community college students in consultation with the Community College League of California, Academic Senate and other community college partners for consideration and adoption by the Board of Governors by not later than November 2007. This evaluation shall be in concert with the System Strategic Plan and implementation process. In addition, and integral to the above, the Chancellor shall study policy strategies for consideration by the Board of Governors in the following areas: non-barrier access, student success, early assessment, orientation, prerequisites, failure to participate, funding, exemptions.

From listening to the Board's discussions prior to approval of the motion, and later confirmed in conversation with the two faculty representatives on the Board of Governors, the Board acted with the best of intentions and is seeking through this motion to address several Board concerns. First, a strong emphasis on basic skills was included in the system's strategic plan.

The Board wants a common baseline measure from which it can assess the system's ability to improve basic skills.

A common assessment test might provide such a baseline. Second, the Board is concerned about the burden that testing puts on students, especially since increasing numbers of students attend more than one community college and few colleges recognize the assessment scores and placement recommendations of other colleges. Third, many studies support mandatory assessment as leading to increased success in basic skills (including the recently released Basic Skills Initiative literature review ), and the Board has chosen assessment as one of its focuses to support student success in basic skills.

The motion does indeed focus on the issue of a uniform, common assessment. In addition, through the use of the wording "all community college students," the suggestion is that this be mandate for all students. However, it is important to note that the Board does not ask for a selection of a single test or implementation of a single assessment by the November 2007 deadline. Rather, the motion calls only for the Chancellor to begin the process, and the process will focus on evaluating the different options open to the Board.

Over the next six months (more or less), a Consultation Council task force, under the leadership of the Academic Senate, will examine the issue of a uniform, common, mandatory assessment and all that implementation of such an assessment might entail. Other issues will also have to be examined, such as the related issues of mandatory orientation and placement, the potential costs of moving in such a direction, and the possible effects such testing may have on student access. In order to bring the widest range of perspectives to this complex issue, the task force will include representatives from the faculty (including faculty associations), chief instructional officers, students, matriculation officers, assessment directors, chief educational officers, classified staff, the Community College League of California, chief student services officers, the Research and Planning Group, and the System Office.

The goal of the task force will be to examine different ways to address the issue of common, uniform assessment and present to the Board a variety of options, laying out for each option the issues that need to be addressed or explored further.

In addition, each option will be connected with the concerns of the Board that prompted the passage of the motion (as explained above). And finally, if possible, the task force will come to consensus on a recommendation for a direction for the Board to take.

Each constituent group is in the process of making its appointments to the task force, but discussion has already begun. Breakouts were conducted at the Academic Senate's Spring Plenary Session and at the Student Senate General Assembly. Central to discussion at the breakouts was a preliminary list of 23 questions concerning the Board's motion that was put together for the Consultation Council Assessment Task Force. You can access this document at the System Office website to get an idea of the complexity of the issues that need to be examined. Your input is welcome at any time. You can send your thoughts, concerns, and suggestions to Mark Wade Lieu at mwlieu [at] gmail.com.

1. Center for Student Success. Basic Skills as a Foundation for Student Success in California Community Colleges. March 2007. Available at http://css.rpgroup.org

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