"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Holding Colleges Hostage

This Higher Ed article, Tough Love for Colleges, provides some good background for the following story.

Colleges May Face Testing to Keep Federal Aid Funding
By: Mason Kerns - The Daily Iowan
Issue date: 1/17/06 Section: Metro

College students could experience their own version of No Child Left Behind if recommendations by a newly created federal panel that would make federal money conditional on test scores come to fruition. In its first round of suggestions to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, the Commission on the Future of Higher Education is expected to ask that such tests as the Collegiate Learning Assessment be used to determine if a public college or university should receive federal money.

A specific plan for allocation of aid based on student-test performance has yet to be developed, but the Bush administration has said the change would make colleges more accountable. The proposal, though, drew criticism from a number of UI administrators Monday, who said testing could diminish educational diversity and create regimented curriculums. Others speculated that students would be discouraged from taking a diverse schedule if the measures were adopted. "We want our students to learn to think critically, to engage in research, to analyze data, and to solve problems," said UI Vice Provost Patricia Cain. "I can't imagine a valid standardized test being given to all college students that could measure accurately what they have learned." The UI is already held accountable by the state Board of Regents, she said.

A release from the RAND Corp. that designed the college-assessment tests said the goal was to measure an "institution's contribution to student learning" by evaluating general education skills - a prospect that both UI students and professors were equally hesitant to support." Things would be too controlled," said UI freshman Charles Ryherd said. " College should be about higher education in what you actually want to do." Lyombe Eko, a UI assistant professor of journalism, said that while he supports admittance tests, he strongly disagrees with exit examinations and tests used to statistically measure schools success." Education, in general, is what remains after a student has forgotten everything he's learned in class," he said. "You are trained to master certain tasks, but what you take away is cultural."

Mark Warner, the director of the UI Student Financial Aid Office, said he felt the education commission was taking an adversarial approach to funding public colleges and needed to have its political agendas "examined." Holding an institution 'hostage' by controlling eligibility for federal student aid may only do harm to students who are most in need of financial support," he said.

The commission, whose 19 panelists are meeting in Nashville, has until Aug. 1 to present recommendations to Spellings, who could push the issue with lawmakers.

E-mail DI reporter Mason Kerns at:mason-kerns@uiowa.edu

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