The new issue of Peer Review, published quarterly by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), focuses on the Association's "VALUE Project," an effort to develop national standards for assessing essential learning outcomes without resort to standardized tests.
VALUE stands for Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education. As explained in this overview of the VALUE Project, the "essential outcomes" for which AAC&U seeks to develop valid assessment tools are those of its LEAP initiative. (LEAP is an acronym for Liberal Education and America's Promise.) The outcomes, listed here, are broad, in accordance with the broad effect on students that the best liberal education, taken as a whole, is meant to yield. In other words, they're outcomes not of this or that degree program, nor even of a general education currciculum, but of the student's entire undergraduate experience.
Two noteworthy features of the VALUE project are, first, the effort to build "metarubrics" based on the accumulation and study of rubrics developed at various individual institutions, and, second, the promotion of e-portfolios as a method of storing and documenting student performances.
As AAC&U notes,
There are no standardized tests for many of the essential outcomes of an undergraduate education. Existing tests are based on typically nonrandom samples of students at one or two points in time, are of limited use to faculty and programs for improving their practices, and are of no use to students for assessing their own learning strengths and weaknesses. VALUE argues that, as an academic community, we possess a set of shared expectations for learning for all of the essential outcomes, general agreement on what the basic criteria are, and a shared understanding of what progressively more sophisticated demonstration of student learning looks like.
Metarubrics aren't simply a compilation and distillation of best practice at various institutions; for campuses that adopt them, they move the entire assessment process in the direction of shared expectations and standards, thereby increasing the validity of learning measurements.
E-portfolios benefit both institutions and students. For the former, they constitute a repository of performances useful for evaluating and tracking insitutional effectiveness; for the latter, they represent an archive of accomplishments that can be shared with graduate insitutions and prospective employers.
Copies of Peer Review Vol. 11, No. 1 (Winter 2009) are available from AAC&U for $8 to members. Geneseo is a member institution.