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1 O u r T r o j a n H o r s e DOI: 10.7330/9781607324454.c001 Outcomes Assessment and the Resurrection of Competency-Based Education Chris W. Gallagher September 2012, electronic portfolio research coalition meeting. A high-ranking official of a regional accrediting agency joins the group, led and largely populated by compositionists, to discuss how eportfolios might be used for accreditation purposes. It’s going well. Our guest talks about reflective, integrative learning and performance-based, authentic assessment. She talks about surveys in which employers favor eportfolios over standardized tests. She talks about “throwing away the bell curve” and providing all students opportunities to learn and to demonstrate their learning. In short, she speaks our language. We happily nod along as she homes in on how eportfolios provide rich evidence of the kind of learning we all value. We are pleased to learn that accrediting agencies and the federal government are looking into eportfolios. Yes, we are told, eportfolios fit nicely into the Obama administration’s renewed emphasis on quality assurance—on accountability. They will help with standard-setting and comparability . With rigorous documentation of bottom-line results. Transparency. Benchmarking. Outcomes. Her seamless shift in language now has us shifting in our seats. When she informs us that the US Department of Education “is interested in breaking up the little monopoly campuses have right now,” we realize what she’s done: drawn us into another discursive orbit, aligning us with the Spellings Commission report, which had used the same monopoly metaphor six years earlier. Somehow we have moved, in the space of a few moments, from champions of learning for all students to perpetrators of an insidious plot to maintain market dominance by edging out suppliers of alternative goods or services. Our guest chides us for being 22   Chris W. Gallagher selfish and out of touch, unaware that as the twenty-first century progresses , “less and less learning will happen in a traditional classroom.” People learn all the time in all kinds of contexts, she reminds us: on the job, online, even while watching television. We must recognize that the future of faculty work is formulating and validating competencies, running diagnostics, evaluating student work, and coaching—in short, “more assessment, less teaching.” We are less happy now. We express a range of objections and worries— about the dismissal of classroom experiences, the stubborn digital divide, the fact that we got into this profession to teach, not merely to evaluate— each of which our guest deftly deflects with the kind of patient, patronizing smile usually reserved for the senile or otherwise infirm. We coalition members have been drawn together by our shared commitment to exploring the teaching and learning affordances of eportfolios . We see eportfolios as technologies that allow us to deepen students’ learning experiences. We also see them as social tools, allowing students to compose digital spaces in which they interact with a range of interlocutors and audiences. But it is now dawning on us that eportfolios are being conscripted into an outcomes-based agenda in which the learning experiences students have with us and with each other are quite beside the point: the game is for individuals to amass credentials based on learning that happens, as the saying now goes, “anytime, anywhere, in any way.”1 We have been bamboozled. ** I have come to see the moment described above as emblematic of a larger reality in which composition finds itself in the age of austerity . While we continue to regard writing as a complex practice through which people make sense of and construct the personal and social worlds they inhabit, we are increasingly conscripted into a neoliberal agenda whose endgame, I have come to believe, is competency-based education (CBE). CBE is a highly individualized educational approach in which students amass credentials through demonstrated competencies , usually in a self-paced manner, rather than through “seat time” (i.e., courses and curricula). As I will show in this chapter, CBE has disastrous implications for composition. In this model, writing is understood as a discrete, commodified, vocational skill; writing students are understood as individual workers-in-training who need to “pick up” this skill for purely instrumental purposes; writing teachers are understood as success coaches to, or evaluators of, those individuals; and writing classrooms are quaint relics of a bygone era when we naively thought the best way Our Trojan Horse   23 to learn to write was to study and practice it with other writers under...


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