This started out as a comment on Dr. Crazy's post, but it got so long I turned it into my own post in order not to highjack the comments there.
I am one of those who drags their feet and goes for the fake assessment. I have bitched long and hard about that. What I think I haven't been clear on has been that I don't totally oppose the general idea about assessment. After all, there are certain things that students should be getting out of our classes, especially at our school when many will transfer to a four-year institution at which they will be expected to have certain skills. Given where many come from and where they hope to go, we really are much like grade 13 when it comes to academic skills. Their success elsewhere is our real assessment.
Like Susan says in Dr. Crazy's comments, we already have those sorts of conversations among the faculty about what our students can't do and what they should be able to do and the ways that we can figure out how to help them do it. Codifying it, however, becomes not only a lot of time (made more so by having faculty spread across three campuses), but it also doesn't provide the type of data that the Ass-essment Borg at our school craves. As Shaun Houston says in the comments at Dr. Crazy's, "I am reminded of this whenever I listen on one side to how various tools will be acceptable for assessing student learning, but see on the other side that only quantitative data that can be crunched through whatever assessment package the university just bought is being used or taken seriously." What we the faculty do and the numbers that the Ass-essement Borg demand are two different things.
Furthermore, despite all of the statements of "this is faculty driven," it is not. There is a right sort of "tool," they won't tell us what it is, and they will make us redo and redo and redo until we give it too them. To their credit, they prefer essays, but they prefer essays with rubrics that are so specific as to be essentially a template for a "right answer" essay...if that makes sense.
I think one of the ways to get around this would require changing our outcomes. All of our outcomes are content based. Skills are implied, as in "students will be able to analyze the causes of the American Revolution," but not the focus (and don't get me started on the time wasted over the back and forth between us and the Borg over "students will analyze the causes of the American Revolution" and "students will be able to analyze the causes of the American Revolution"). So, when we try to assess the "analyze" part, the Borg wants the "American Revolution" part. So, we can't design a means of assessing the analyzing part without becoming as specific about the information part on the American Revolution part as the assessors want, which then becomes very rigid and begins to hint as some of the conformity that the educrats want.
By conformity I don't mean that "all professors cover the American Revolution in their classes," but that "all professors are going by the same script about the American Revolution in their classes." That issue is more obvious in their online "common course" travesty, which is another story for another time.
The American Revolution part, as important as it is, isn't the more important thing that the students will take away from class. The analyze part is. To be able to demonstrate the analyze part, of course the student will have to demonstrate knowledge of the Revolution, more so than if we have them tick off "Stamp Act" or "virtual representation" and so forth on a content-based "tool." So, the Borg is asking us to go about this bass-ackwards.
Now, my solution would be to add to our assessments something more skills-based. "Students will be able analyze historic documents" or "Students will be able to write a research paper with x number of sources" or something like that. We need something that moves away from a focus on content that turns history into a game of multiple choice trivial pursuit (which, less face it, is what a vast majority of people seem to think historians do all day -- hence the complete bafflement that we need to do research). After all, that's where are students are weakest, that's where they are being failed by NCLB, and that's what will determine their success outside of our classes. That, in fact, is what makes them educated people: the thinking and research skills.
To change the outcomes, however, we would have to go back to a curriculum committee to get approval. That means taking a well-established general education course -- several of them -- and putting them through the whole process of course proposal. Again, remembering that we are spread across three campuses, that on two campuses a full half of the (2 person) full-time history faculty are chairs over not just history but other disciplines, that we all teach a 5/5 load, and on and on -- well, the incentive is just not there to do that. (It certainly isn't with me since the meetings would all be at that Self-Proclaimed Main Campus and that is not just the time for the meetings out of my day, that's up to 2 hours in traffic, too.)
So, the real work of assessment is done as we, in our yearly all-college meetings, talk about how to design papers and assignments that address our students' astounding inability to think or to function with the written word, and then go out and implement those assignments. What we turn over to the Borg is bullshit. While the desire to change this may exist, the incentive does not.
My most cynical self also imagines that, should we find the incentive and reform what we can on our end of the process, the Borg would send back a detailed rubric for analyzing historical documents and say something like, "which document?" and "I don't see any history in this." I imagine them telling the math department which numbers must be included in a particular function (no x + y = z, but 2 + 5 = 7).
Anyway, watching the frustrating, infuriating process at my school, and listening to other discussion about this, I can see the camps split, and a lot of the split has to do with how the whole assessment business is handled at a school. Does the school really turn the process over to the faculty and trust that the faculty know what they are doing? Or does the school dictate the process and demand certain sorts of data that are not necessarily respecting the professional expertise of faculty nor the needs of the students with whom that faculty work? Plus, it does seem like a whole hell of a lot of work to either codify what you already do, which has its merits, or produce bullshit to keep a Borg off of your back so you can go about what you already do, which does not.