Spellings Backs Away From College “Accountability” Testing

University Testing

FairTest Examiner - January 2008

“Let me repeat: No one-size-fits-all measures; no standardized tests. All I ask is that institutions be more clear about the benefits they offer to students.” With that December, 2007 statement to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings conceded that the Bush Administration lacked the political clout to mandate anything similar to “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) for the world of higher education.

Over the past two years, Sec. Spellings has been the point person in a campaign to create a system of “accountability” for the country’s colleges and universities. Initial proposals included the use of standardized exams to demonstrate what students were learning (see Examiner, January 2007). But expanding public opposition to NCLB’s test-and-punish formula combined with sophisticated lobbying by many higher education leaders thwarted the plans. Ultimately, it became clear that Congress would not support any federal higher education testing requirement.

Spellings’ retreat does not mean that efforts to impose “value-added” tests on undergraduates have ended, only that they will not come from the federal government. Several networks of colleges and universities are developing their own voluntary systems to measure learning outcomes. Products such as the College Learning Assessment are being marketed more aggressively. Indeed, Spellings pledged to continue pressing for greater accountability in general but warned against imposing any specific, top-down mechanisms.