January 28, 2003
PLAN TO TEST STUDENT LEARNING, ENACT PERFORMANCE MEASURES
TOP IBHE AGENDA
SPRINGFIELD - A far-reaching plan to test what students
have learned in all undergraduate and graduate academic programs
at Illinois colleges and universities will be voted on by
the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) next week in
Evanston. The Board also will act on launching another comprehensive
accountability effort - a requirement that all public colleges
and universities annually submit "performance indicators"
to measure progress in meeting major state goals and common
Board members will hear a report from the Executive Director
of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) on the
hardships experienced by fifth-year students who lost eligibility
for state need-based financial aid as a consequence of budget
cuts this fiscal year. An ISAC study found some students dropped
out of school, others "dropped down" by taking fewer
credit hours and delaying their completion, and many used
a combination of more work and higher loan debt to continue
The Board meets at 9 a.m., Tuesday, February 4, in the Ballroom
of the Hilton Garden Inn in Evanston.
Both the proposal on assessment of student learning and the
performance indicator project are measures to gauge progress
in meeting goals of The Illinois Commitment, the strategic
plan adopted by the Board in 1999.
"These proposals show that the Board of Higher Education
and the Illinois higher education community are serious about
quality and accountability," Steven H. Lesnik, Chairman
of the Board, said. "While admittedly assessment is an
inexact science, the recommendation on assessing what students
know and are able to do as a result of their college experience
puts Illinois in the forefront of student assessment nationally."
As all college grads well know, colleges and universities
have long made course-by-course assessment a regular and dreaded
part of students' lives. The plan before the Board would require
those assessments to take place at the conclusion of an undergraduate's
general education curriculum-typically the first two years
of college-and when the student completes his or her degree
program, at either the undergrad or graduate level. The proposal
calls for each program or discipline to devise an appropriate
assessment approach, including examinations, portfolios, and
other quantitative and qualitative measures, for evaluating
what students have learned. The plan also requires institutions
to demonstrate how they have used the assessments to improve
curriculum, teaching, and learning.
The plan further seeks Board endorsement of Illinois' participation
in a national pilot project, sponsored by The Pew Charitable
Trusts, to develop a model for assessing college-level learning.
Illinois is to be one of five states that will test a sampling
of college and university students, both public and private,
next fall in an effort to derive a test that could be used
nationwide to draw state-by-state comparisons of student learning
for the National Report Card project.
Board approval of the performance indicator project would
add an objective layer of data and other information for evaluating
progress - statewide and by institution - on the six goals
of The Illinois Commitment. Institutions will report information
on a variety of indicators, including the number of teachers
gaining certification; the net cost of attending an Illinois
college or university for students at various income levels;
degree completions by race/ethnicity, disability, and gender;
the cost of instruction; and graduation rates.
The indicators will enable policy-makers and campus leaders
to draw conclusions about progress, shortcomings, and areas
in need of improvement at the state level over time and at
the campus level as compared to performance goals each institution
Board members also will hear an update from Larry Matejka,
ISAC Executive Director, on the status and financial circumstances
of students who were denied a fifth year of aid under the
Monetary Award Program (MAP) as a result of budget cuts that
trimmed $38 million from the agency's need-based assistance
program, affecting 12,000 recipients overall and 8,000 fifth-year
students, or about 5 percent of ISAC's clientele.
The ISAC report notes that although fifth-year students, in
general, were "significantly poorer" than other
MAP recipients (average family income $26,373), 85 percent
of them found a way to continue their studies. Some institutions
used internal funds to make up the lost MAP grants, which
for someone at the maximum grant level would have amounted
to just under $5,000 for the academic year. The study also
found that fifth-year students were predominantly older; nearly
two out of three were from racial or ethnic minorities.
The report documents that students used a variety of means
to persist toward their degrees, including increasing the
number of hours they worked each week, reducing the number
of credit hours they carried, and borrowing more to finance
the shortfall of MAP money.
In a related matter, the Board's Committee on Affordability
will meet Tuesday afternoon at the Hilton to hear public testimony.