Assess Titanic

So the phone rings, and it’s my old pal Lars Abraham, Superannuated Professor of Sesquipedaliana at Seattle State.

“‘Sup, Pops,” say I.

“”I’m not doing so good, Tim,” says Lars.

“When was the last time you were doing good, Lars?” I ask. “The Truman Administration?”

“Tim, it is no joke. Things are declining rapidly in higher education. Take Assessment. A new mandate has come down from Olympia …”

“Sounds Jovian, Lars …”

“… which is our State Capital, you boob. All our Core Courses must now be Assessed by means of Trademark Assignments™.”

“Why all the capital letters, Lars?”

“You can hear them? Tim, this Assessment is for the birds. I have to assign a Trademark Assignment™ to each of my freshman grammar sections. The Trademark Assignment™ has been written by a team of Ed.D.s in Olympia. It asks the students for a 500-word essay on the theme ‘How has the material in this course contributed to your future global citizenship contribution in the areas of the Environment, Social Justice, and Sustainable Megacities?'”

“Questions I ask myself every morning. What’s your beef, Lars?”

“Tim, this is a grammar course. This week, we are covering the subordinate clause.”

“Some passive voice, there, Mr. Grammar Person. ‘We are covering’ – c’mon! Use active verbs!”

“Tim, your mind is completely vacant. If it can admit an idea, tell me: how does the subordinate clause relate to global citizenship?”

“Well, it’s obvious. It’s subordinate! Does that sound like social justice to you? All those clauses, toiling away under Late Capitalism and never realizing their independence.”

“And no doubt that is what the students will write on their Trademark Assignments™. And then what will happen? These Trademark Assignments™ will be collected. The students’ names will be removed. My name will be removed. They will be read by a committee in Olympia to determine whether Seattle State has met its core obligations to the citizens of Washington State.”

“And if you haven’t met them?”

“Nothing will happen, of course. Except that we have one week less every semester to discuss grammar, and one week more to write a meaningless paper that nobody cares about and that relates in no way to education.”

“Always complaining, Lars. Hasn’t it occurred to you that the taxpayers of Washington deserve to know whether or not you’re an effective teacher? I mean, you sit there in your ivory tower, diagramming clauses, but how do we know whether you’re teaching something, or just drinking sherry and droning on about how you once met Robert Frost?”

“Twice. But, Tim, you speak as if no faculty member had ever conceived of assessing teaching effectiveness.”

“And none of them ever have! If it weren’t for the Texas Coordinating Board, we wouldn’t have the slightest idea whether we were teaching anything at all.”

“That may be so for you, because you are a nincompoop. But in Seattle, when I started teaching grammar in the days before one split one’s infinitives, I used an innovative assessment protocol known as a Final Exam.”

“Sounds authoritarian to me, Lars. Sounds inside-box and passive-learning again.”

“And a few years into my career, I thought of giving a pre-test at the start of the semester. Students never remember their gradeschool grammar, and they all fail the pre-test. But the great majority, after sixteen weeks, can pass the Final Exam, or even make 100%.”

“That is the least creative pedagogy I have ever heard described, Lars.”

“Creative or no, on one fateful day in December or May, I know with great precision how effective I have been in teaching grammar. I have used the same Final Exam for many years.”

“Fossil …”

“And as I have tweaked my lessons, I have seen the mean grade go up from 69.5 to 78.3. Slow going, Tim, but it is the direction that matters, not the velocity. Festina lente: ars longa, vita brevis.”

“Greek to me, Lars. But give me a break. Are you telling me that you know more about Assessment than professionally-trained Assessment Specialists who have written Ed.D. theses on Data-Driven Discovery in Postmodern Pedagogies?”

“I know more about grammar than these Ed.D.s do. None of them could pass my pre-test, let alone my Final Exam.”

“Lars, you are profoundly out of touch with the modern university. The idea that mere faculty members could assess what students are learning in their own discipline is the kind of arrogance that has lead to the current crisis of confidence in higher education.”

“‘Has led,’ Tim.”

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