Commission Considers Standardized Tests for College Students

A federal commission on education has discussed the possibility of advocating standardized testing of all college students in the country, as well as withholding federal student aid if schools decline to participate in the government program.

The Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education met Dec. 8-9 to discuss the current concerns with higher education in the United States. Charles Miller, chair of the Commission and former chair of the Board of Regents of the University of Texas system, put forth the idea of implementing standardized tests in the nation’s colleges and universities in order to promote accountability and higher standards on these campuses.

While Miller did not state outright that the Commission would advocate such a program, he did say it might advise Congress to withhold federal student aid funds from institutions that do not administer these exams.

“We’re looking for leverage points,” Miller told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Funding is one, accreditation is another.”

Kevin Casey, Harvard’s senior director of federal and state relations, said it was too early to assess whether or not such a testing regimen would ultimately be implemented in American universities.

“The Commission is only in its early stages,” said Casey. “These are simply recommendations.”

Casey said that the group’s job at this stage is simply to generate ideas and that he expects the commission to publish its final report in August.

He said Harvard would wait until then before taking a stance on its findings.

He also emphasized the difficulty of ensuring the integration of these exams into university culture.

“In higher education, where attendance is voluntary, imposing [testing systems] probably will take a lot of time to resonate broadly,” he said.

President George W. Bush, who has supported rigorous and more frequent standardized testing in public schools during his tenure, created the Commission this year to devise a comprehensive national strategy for higher education.

Executive Associate for Accountability and Performance in the University of Texas System Geri H. Malandra said in her remarks at the Nashville conference that accountability metrics are essential to maintaining the quality of higher education and ensuring that it is worth the tuition dollars.

Malandra has helped to enact accountability reforms within the University of Texas System, by monitoring data like graduation rates, licensure exam pass rates, and post-graduation employment rates.

Miller argued in his introductory remarks at the conference that federal funding of higher education is grounded in the notion that such education produces a public good. As a result, these institutions “must demonstrate successful efforts to improve productivity and efficiency” in order to justify current and future levels of support.

The meeting in Nashville was only the group’s second meeting. Casey said the University will keep abreast of the actions of the committee, but believes it is too early for it to take any action.

The committee will reconvene to discuss these issues further in San Diego in February.

—Staff writer Joshua D. Samuelson can be reached at