In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

2 C o n f e s s i o n s o f a n A s s e s s m e n t F e l l o w DOI: 10.7330/9781607324454.c002 Deborah Mutnick What we measure affects what we do; and if our measurements are flawed, decisions may be distorted . . . Joseph E. Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, Jean-Paul Fitoussi (2008) Soaring tuition, student debt topping $1 trillion, and a national graduation rate of 59 percent at four-year institutions raise troubling questions about the value of a college education (US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 2013). At the same time, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center, graduates with a four-year degree earn 98 percent more an hour than dropouts or people who never attended college (Pew Research Center 2014). Yet access is in jeopardy, increasingly tied to completion, grades, test scores, and ability to pay, thus rolling back the debate about who goes to college nearly half a century. Meanwhile, teachers at all levels are struggling to cope with budget cuts and externally set policies from the Common Core State Standards in K–12 to outcomes assessment in colleges and universities that are commodifying education and eroding autonomy and resilience in a neoliberal era of privatization, deregulation, financialization , and austerity. My aim here is to situate outcomes assessment in the larger context of the neoliberal university, a topic about which I write from the perspective of an “assessment fellow”—one of several hats I wear at Long Island University-Brooklyn (LIU), the private, multi-campus university where I have taught writing and rhetoric since the late 1980s. As is true for the majority of college writing teachers across the United States in the wake of open admissions, I teach at an urban campus that serves a predominantly lower middle- and working-class, first-generation student population. Several years ago, as the university approached its decennial 36   Deborah Mutnick evaluation by the Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE), a director of assessment was hired to ensure compliance with Standard 14, the assessment of student learning—noncompliance having put increasingly more institutions on warning, probation, or worse. After a year of meetings of a university-wide committee that I participated in as a faculty representative, a structure emerged in which programs were mandated to develop goals, objectives, and measures of student learning in order to use data effectively to improve outcomes. Faculty fellows rather than administrators—my idea, as I recall it—were appointed to engage with other faculty as we navigated the tension between assessment for internal improvement of student learning and external accountability to accrediting agencies and policymakers. But many professors, at LIU and elsewhere, view outcomes assessment as “an ideological smokescreen” (Bennett and Brady 2012, 2), dependent on a “reductive logic” that appeals to a “generic general public” (Emery and Graff 2008, 256). That critique, with which I sympathize, and my often uncomfortable participation in my own institution’s assessment program have provoked these reflections. To those conversant with the discourse of neoliberal capitalism, two familiar starting points for my analysis of the role of outcomes assessment in higher education are: 1. the problem is not scarcity but rather distribution of resources; and 2. academic underpreparedness and the so-called “achievement gap”— which drive the assessment industry—are primarily the result of underlying social problems of poverty, racism, and economic inequality that are neither inevitable nor natural but rather result from policies created and enacted by human beings.1 While in some circles it may be second nature to criticize former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s slogan “There Is No Alternative” [to capitalism], otherwise known as TINA, this outlook predominates in a culture in which many people simply feel buffeted by political economic forces without understanding their origins or designs. Reinforcing such obedience to the status quo is the difficulty of decoupling what seem like reasonable demands, such as improving learning outcomes—the smokescreen—from the ideological networks through which they are more and more aggressively circulated. Popular support for charter schools, for example, attests to deep yearnings for solutions to complex problems and susceptibility to the promises of powerful corporate and literacy sponsors. The privatization of education is part of a capitalist offensive to concentrate wealth Confessions of an Assessment Fellow   37 in what is now famously known as the 1 percent, an assault waged with increasing indifference to human suffering, at times...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.