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22 August 2012

Assessment Day Blues

So, we had our college's annual "Assessment Day" a couple weeks ago, before classes started. I was dreading it, and while I did learn a few things, it was not worth my commute or a day of lost productivity. It certainly could have been summarized in an email. In an effort to learn something larger, though, here are some thoughts.

I heard a lot of rhetoric from administrators about how holding an Assessment Day was a symbolic statement about our collective valuing of students as a liberal arts college. I find this claim laughable. Assessment can indeed be a valuable exercise in self-evalutation; however, in practice, assessment is imposed on us by external accrediting bodies, the state university system of which we're a part, and the Board of Regents. This kind of top-down assessment requirement shifts the focus from students/teaching/learning to bureaucracy.

Many people openly voiced the frustrations about the process that I shared during our session work. The responses--sometimes out loud as answers to themselves--included "We have no choice," "That's just the way it is," "At the end of the day...," "They pay the bills," and "We have to."  The problem with that kind of framing is that it is ignorant to how it all works. Power exists and is perpetuated in these unchallenged assumptions about how the social structure is organized and what kind of agency actors have in that system. On the micro-level from a symbolic interacationist perspective, it is this kind of resignation that creates meaning. If we agree that there is a problem with what is being dictated, this is the place to confront it. If we toe the defeatist line, we tacitly accept the normative assumptions and allow our institutions to follow the same isomorphic path.

SocProf has a great take-down of exactly this kind of stuff over at The Global Sociology Blog.

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