Saturday, February 4, 2012

Assessment and Alignment: The Dynamic Aspects of Developmental Education


In this, the seventh of eleven Policy Analysis for California Education Working Papers, W. Norton Grubb et al, continue their analysis of basic skills education in California Community Colleges.

Developmental education is typically a dynamic sequence of courses taking place over time, with the presumption that each activity — an initial assessment, then a series of courses leading to college-level courses — is articulated with the next. However, there are many issues in this process. One of the first is that the assessment exams used are themselves problems — inconsistent among colleges, uncoordinated with subsequent courses, opaque to students who take these assessments without understanding how important they are. They provide information for placement, but no information for the diagnosis of what skills a student lacks, so they are virtually useless to instructors. The upshot is that the assessment process does a poor job of placing students.

Then the alignment of courses presents other problems. Horizontal alignment, or coordination of all sections of a course at the same level, typically does not take place since instructors are usually responsible for their own courses — even though some colleges have moved to common exit exams to force some uniformity. Then vertical alignment — the coordination of one course in a sequence with the next course — virtually never takes place, except in those few cases where departments are organized themselves into learning communities of cooperating members.

The conclusion to this Working Paper outlines a series of steps that might help correct the various alignment problems. In the end, alignment requires a shift in thinking, from one emphasizing the improvement of individual course — valuable as that might be — to one focusing primarily on a program of courses over time, and requiring collective action among assessment, matriculation, research, and instruction.

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