History of Assessment

     History of Educational Assessment

     Assessment in Historical Perspective

History of Assessment

History of Educational Assessment

A brief history of assessment in higher education has been outlined by Huba & Freed (2000) in their book “Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses.” The following summarizes the information presented by Huba and Freed (2000):

In the 1950s and 1960s, college enrollment was expanding, and many WWII veterans were seeking college educations. Until that pint, the value of college education had been assumed, and universities were not expected to reveal to external audiences what was happening in their classrooms. In the 1970s, several changes occurred in higher education. Many universities faced financial crisis, the population of students attending college became more diverse, and concerns were raised that college graduates did not have the skills and abilities needed in the workplace. The value of higher education came into question by the public and politicians.

As a result, in 1984 and 1985 four reports were issued addressing the need for college reform:

  1. Access to quality Undergraduate Education
  2. Integrity in the College Curriculum
  3. Involvement in Learning
  4. To reclaim a Legacy

These reports stated the higher education needed to become learner-centered, and that learners, faculty, and institutions all needed feedback in order to improve.

Following these reports, some states implemented performance funding programs where money was given to institutions that met performance targets (e.g., retention rates, graduation rates, student learning).  Then regional accreditation agencies got involved and required member institutions to conduct outcomes assessment in order to maintain their status as accredited institutions. In 1989, the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools introduced the requirement that every affiliated institution conduct outcomes assessment.  Afterwards, specialized accrediting bodies (e.g., those for veterinary medicine, engineering, counseling, architecture, etc), also adopted an outcomes approach to program evaluation.

In the late 1980s the assessment movement was influenced by the use of quality principles and practices. Colleges and Universities pursued continuous improvement because of competition for students, the need to reduce costs and improve quality of services, and the desire to enhance learning. One of the founders of the quality improvement movement is W. E. Deming, he created fourteen principles for continuous improvement. These principles have been adapted for education and encourage the gathering of data for informed decision.

The assessment movement began with an external influence on education and has grown into an internal force: Improvement as accountability. Over time, it has become clear that the best way for institutions to be accountable to any audience is to incorporate the evaluation of student learning into the way they operate on a regular basis. When faculty collectively take charge of their educational programs, making visible their purpose and intent, and putting in place a database system of evaluation that focuses on improving student learning, the institution itself is the primary beneficiary while external audiences are satisfied as well.

In 1995, The Education Commission of the States released a report, Making Quality Count in Undergraduate Education. This report proposed twelve quality attributes of good practice in delivery an undergraduate education. The attributes (see below) address aspects of an institution’s organizational culture and values, its curriculum, and the type of instruction that takes place within it.

The Education Commission of the States’ 12 attributes of good practice in undergraduate education:

Quality begins with an organizational culture that values:

  1. High expectations
  2. Respect for diverse talents and learning styles
  3. Emphasis on the early years of study

A quality curriculum requires:

  1. Coherence in learning
  2. Synthesizing experiences
  3. Ongoing practice of learned skills
  4. Integrating education and experience

Quality instruction builds in:

  1. Active learning
  2. Assessment and prompt feedback
  3. Collaboration
  4. Adequate time on task
  5. Out-of-class contact with faculty

Since the proposal of the above attributes, undergraduate assessment has taken a learner centered approach. To learn more about learner-centered assessment see: Huba & Freed (2000) “Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses.”


 Assessment in Historical Perspective

To view a detailed history of assessment covering the time window between the early middle ages and the end of the 19th century, view Ben Wilbrink's overview (pdf version).