I'm in foul mood today because I have to get dressed, drive up to the self-proclaimed "main campus" (they aren't, they just like to think they are) and sit in on one of those hideous Outcomes Assessment meetings run by the OA Borg, a group of True Believers who get paid a lot of money NOT to teach.
I feel so horribly unethical and insulted in those meetings, like I'm contributing to the downfall of American education. This is, at our college at least, essentially a very obvious creep toward No Child Left Behind at the college level because that worked so well at K-12. I feel as if, by participating, I'm complicit in the problem, that I'm adding to the ignorance of Americans, which means that I'm adding to the evils of the world done by ignorant Americans. I'm not being hyperbolic, either. I feel that, if I were a moral and ethical person, I would refuse to participate.
Of course, if I refuse to participate, then I would also be an unemployed person, being untenured at an institution that does not grant tenure. Still, shouldn't someone, somewhere along the line just say "NO"? The higher up and the greater in numbers, the more effective this "NO" would be; but, as it plays out, it's like the corrupt system of speculation in Little Dorrit: nobody's fault. Everyone just participates in this system that everybody knows is a sham, and everyone says that we have to do it because "THEY" say we that have to and because "THEY say it coming whether we like it or not so we might as well accept it."
This is all obviously a sore point for me. Remember, I grew up in Texas. As an adult I lived in the very district where the No Child Left Behind business was hatched. I knew teachers -- talented, enthusiastic teachers, who quit within a few years because of No Child Left Behind. From the very start, everyone tasked with implementing the program -- that is, the people actually engaged in the actual education of actual students -- knew that it was bullshit and detrimental to education.
Meanwhile, at our college, in our department, we all settled on a truce. Do what they ask, generate the data and hand it over with as little disruption to our own teaching as possible. After all, the OA Borg kept telling us, "You are the professionals. You know your subject. We trust you to come up with the most effective assessment instrument. We will accept what you come up with." If we didn't comply, then, "THEY will come in and create one for you."
Someone actually told that to me yesterday. I wanted to tell her, "c'mon! You are far too old to believe that, if we are good little professors, and do exactly what is expected of us, then THEY are going to leave us alone." I did tell her, "THEY are going to take it over if THEY want to no matter what we do." She has become assimilated. She honestly believes that she can limit the impact of the system by becoming part of it. Our pity for her prevents us from holding her in contempt.
THEY are actually already taking it over. All of that "we trust you" and "you are the professionals" and "we will accept what you come up with" is just smoke. You see, we came up with ours, and they kept sending it back to us. At first, it was just tweaking the language. "Students will understand the causes of the American Revolution," had to be "Students will demonstrate an understanding of the causes of the American Revolution." That sort of thing. Then, their revisions became more detailed. "How does this question show that students are demonstrating the causes of the American Revolution?" they wanted to know.
Ultimately, what they wanted from us was an essay-based exam. Ultimately, we refuse to give it to them. Understanding that, really, all the Borg really wants are numbers to plug into spreadsheets to generate charts and graphs that demonstrate "learning," we decided to create a multiple choice "instrument" that covered basic questions that you can't get through a history class without knowing. They aren't quite "who's buried in Grant's Tomb" questions. They are more like "Which of the following was NOT a cause of the Civil War," followed by a list of items that incorporates several different interpretations with one very wrong answer like "the invasion of Poland." That way, if any of us did not emphasize an interpretation that another did -- and we have to be aware that the adjuncts have their own interpretations, too, since they aren't part of this process -- then the student could at least intuit the correct answer.
We would all give this "instrument" as a quiz of some sort. Then, we could just plug the numbers into the software at the end of the semester and feed the numbers to the Borg. The Borg is fed with minimal impact on the way that we run our own classes. That was what we agreed was the best way to approach this process.
We see a huge difference between feeding numbers to the Borg and education. We test education with our own assignments and exams, which are based on writing and through which we can see if students are improving their thought processes. We feed numbers to the Borg with this "instrument" thing and evaluate our students based on our own thing.
We are fully aware that ours is a joke of an "instrument," but we felt that anything more would begin to dictate what we teach in class. While we all know that essays are the best way to test understanding of material, if we all gave the same essay question using the same rubric for grading those essays, then we would essentially be creating a common exam, and we all agreed that a common exam would mean that we would end up teaching to the test.
Make no mistake, the Borg wants it all to be EXACTLY the same. You can't just have a rubric with general parts like "opposition to taxation." You have to have parts that say, "Stamp Act," and "Boston Tea Party," and so forth. While the Borg insists that they are not advocating standardized testing or common exams, they really are.
The OA Borg becomes more and more intrusive with more and more forms and more and more rejection of our own "assessment tools." They say, "we let you create your own tool because we trust that you know what you are doing." Then, when we do, they send it back saying "this isn't good enough." The process repeats until they are satisfied, which means that they do have requirements for these "instruments," (please! They are "tests"!) but to keep up the mendacity of "you create the instrument yourselves," they have to coerce us into figuring out what it is and giving it to them. To keep up the lie that "we aren't asking for a standardized or common exam" they have to get us to decide that a standardized and common exam is the best option.
Clearly, they do have to coerce our department because we don't buy it and we have no respect for their process. They want us to give them honest-to-god exams that demonstrate education. We believe that we already do, they just aren't the same exams approaching the questions of the course in the exact same way. They don't accept that method because, if their numbers are going to mean anything, they need sameness. To achieve that sameness, they want us to give the same exam.
We rebel against that because we see that as standardized testing with common exams. We see that as not only an infringement on our freedom in the classroom but also the source of our students being untrained and even frightened to think on their own after 12 years of similar standardized testing. We teach in the humanities. Education in the humanities cannot be quantified in the same way as, say, business productivity. Yet, the way that the Borg describes their ideal education, you and I and the professors at Harvard or even the Sorbonne should all be giving the same exam with the same exact rubric so that that THEY can prove that education is happening. In fact, I often wonder if they expect the students to turn in the same exact answers.
Who, by the way, are THEY? Because THEY should be resisted.
NOTE: I vent here so that I will not be this pissed off at the meeting. As great as 99% of my colleagues are, and as great a place as my institution is to work in general, as with most places, the administrative culture does not appreciate speaking truth to power. If something has been implemented, it is 100% good, and there will be no complaints.