Assessment tests fail critical evaluations

Paul Smeltzer
Paul Smeltzer

Graduation now comes with an extra obstacle for some students.

Colleges nationwide are signed up to give the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus, a test aimed to measure a graduate’s ability for prospective employers.

According to the Chicago Tribune, “about 200 colleges and universities, including small liberal arts colleges like Ursuline College of Pepper Pike, Ohio and Stonehill College of Easton, Massachusetts as well as some of the California and Texas state university systems” will offer the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus to their seniors this year.

Ever since I took my first standardized test I’ve heard teachers openly criticize the idea of a test assessing an entire year of material. To think a college-level assessment test could properly evaluate four years of college experience is borderline psychotic.

The test will evaluate and analyze a student’s problem-solving, writing, quantitative reasoning and reading skills, according to the Council for Aid to Education, the organization that created the assessment test. For those who haven’t seen the inside of a math book for a couple of years, you’d better figure out where dear aunt Sally went and what excuses she needs.

There’s a high probability of failing certain portions of the assessment test for those not in math-intensive majors. In fact, a logarithmic function created by the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus actually demonstrates how quickly we forget things, such as algebra, after a certain amount of time.

For example, if your last score on a math test was 90 percent, according to Ebbinghaus’ law you’re expected score on the same test after two months away from the material is 72 percent and after a year it’s 54 percent.

But say you’ve prepared, you dusted off stockpiles of old notes from high school, perused YouTube for solutions and have essentially drawn a few pints of blood from yourself, does this test even accurately evaluate anything important a potential employer should consider? Not really.

I’m a journalism major, but I doubt questions on the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus would assess how often I tweet, blog or understand the importance of multimedia. And I’m sure it won’t ask me to edit five articles in an hour, fly out of state to cover a story or re-enact a number of other valuable experiences I’ve had in college.

Qualities that standardized tests cannot measure are “creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, empathy, self-awareness, self-discipline, leadership, civic-mindedness, courage, compassion, resourcefulness, sense of beauty, sense of wonder, honesty, integrity,” according to education researcher Gerald W. Bracey.

These traits are integral to any job, and it seems like standardized tests only weigh a small portion of what makes education meaningful. So why even take it if it says nothing about your true proficiency?

Well, the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus does offer a unique criterion to judge senior college students with. It trumpets our aptness to put projects, papers and valuable hours of studying on the back-burner for a frivolous waste of time.

You know, as if graduating wasn’t enough.


Illustration by Liz Coffee
Illustration by Liz Coffee

Paul Smeltzer can be reached at [email protected] or @smeltzerwave on Twitter.