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CollegeQandA asks: Who assesses the assessors?

Who assesses the assessors?

To rephrase, is there any formal processes that checks if colleges, professors, and higher education are “good”.  Simply, are professors who assess students also assessed?  The simple answer is, yes, and professor assessment happens in a number of ways.

Measuring Tape up close

Promotion, Appointment, and Tenure

As an individual professor the main assessment is one or a combo of promotion, appointment, and/or tenure.

  • Tenure = typically, a decision based on a period of 3 or more years where the institution decides if you will be a member of the institution for the foreseeable future.  The criteria for tenure varies but factors in research productivity, teaching ability, and service to the university.
  • Promotion = this is an institutional decision to promote someone to a higher position.  This is similar to climbing the ladder in large corporations.  Criteria for promotion varies and are similar to tenure, but expectations tend to increase as the ladder is climbed.
  • Appointments = some institutions don’t have tenure and instead use X year appointments.  After X years are complete reappointment is determined based on meeting criteria similar to above.

In each of these individual assessments, a professor or educator is judged on criteria of productivity.  What this means to a student is that a “full professor” or “university professor” means that the person has been promoted to some of the highest levels of the institution, but it might be due to their research productivity more than their teaching ability (and typically this is more often the truth).  Higher ed is not just about learning at the undergraduate level, and a major push is learning at the frontier of human understanding.

Assessment agencies

Beyond the individual, there is also institutional assessments at every level.  For example, engineering departments have the option of being assessed and accredited by ABET.

For these types of accreditation (an award of meeting some standard set by the accreditation agency), programs have to show measurable results on various factors.  For example, what percentage of students are gainfully employed after graduation?  How many students are failing?  These measurements are an attempt to evaluate the institution and the quality of its respective programs.

A world of measuring and setting bars

The reality of assessment – student, professor, institution – is we like to measure things and set bars.  Look at all the school ratings that are generated each year.  With measurements we can compare us to you and you to us.  Is that a good thing?  My feel is that we overly rely on measurement, and the world is too complex to simply measure.

One of our next big philosophical leaps will come from a shift from our love of the simplicity of quantity.

Credits: photo titled: Measuring tape ; by Sean MacEntee

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