Faculty say no to starting assessment of students in general education

9:41:24 AM CDT - Thursday, May 22, 2003

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

During a general faculty meeting earlier this month, WSU's faculty failed to pass a motion to start assessing students in the university's general education program.

The motion had had the majority support of the Faculty Senate, but many of the nearly 100 faculty at the meeting had concerns about the proposed motion. The vote was 22 for the motion, 73 against.

This past year, the Faculty Senate appointed a number of task forces to study various aspects of WSU's general education program. The program has been under constant discussion in the Faculty Senate and in general faculty meetings for years.

"It just never ends," said Nancy McKellar, an associate professor in the administration, counseling, educational and school psychology department, who remarked at the meeting that the program has been under discussion ever since she joined the WSU faculty nearly 20 years ago.

"I've been here 36 years, and I remember this debate going on for 36 years," said Dwight Murphey, a business professor who retires this year.

A 1987 North Central Accreditation self-study report said WSU's general education program reflected institutional policies, but not student needs. The program underwent a number of changes in response to that report, but a 1997 NCA report still criticized the program, saying while the program was more restrictive and focused than it had been in 1987, it still lacked goals, outcomes and measurable standards.

"The North Central Accreditation people have said in each of their last two reports that we must develop an assessment plan," said Elizabeth Behrman, a physics professor who is the Faculty Senate president for 2003-04. "We have not yet done so. It really ought to be in place by the time of their next visit," which is in 2006.

In an attempt to start measuring the program, one of the task forces reviewed national assessment tests on general education programs and recommended that WSU start gathering student assessment data during the 2003-4 academic year using CollegeBASE, a program developed by the College of Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia. BASE stands for basic academic subjects examination.

Murphey, who chaired the assessment task force, said they had looked for a national assessment test to see if WSU students are meeting the requirements of "an educated person" before taking upper division classes. The task force recommended CollegeBASE because it felt the assessment was more comprehensive and tested not only skills but rudimentary knowledge, Murphey said. CollegeBASE assesses students in English, math, science and social studies. The task force had hoped by using a national test, WSU could learn what's working with the program and move forward from there.

The motion had called for coming up with assessment tools for testing other basic skills, such as speech, that are included in WSU's general education program but not tested for under CollegeBASE. The motion had also called for the university to have a comprehensive system for assessing the general education program by spring 2006.

During discussions of the motion, a few faculty suggested that it's time for action, not just committee work. It does no good to have committees working on general education issues if nothing is done, said Peer Moore-Jansen, an associate professor and chair of anthropology who has served on a number of general education committees and task forces.

Faculty Senate is planning to look at the program's goals in the upcoming academic year. The goals were not updated when the program was last revised, according to Behrman.

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