Education Leadership Conference

As tuition rises and the workforce demands new competencies of college graduates, colleges and universities are under increased pressure from the public and policy-makers to account for student learning. Meanwhile, K-12 schools face similar pressure to demonstrate student learning outcomes through standardized testing.

But universities and schools continue to struggle with how to best assess student learning and effectively meet the new requirements at all levels.

A keynote panel of education experts at APA's 2003 Education Leadership Conference (ELC) urged psychologists to help the nation's schools and universities tackle this challenge--a goal of the ELC conference--and suggested ways they can do so. Psychologists' testing and assessment expertise, as well as their research findings on effective teaching, can help schools reach the standards they're striving for, the panelists said.

The panelists--Susan Sclafani, PhD, counselor to U.S. Secretary of Education Roderick Paige, PhD; Lee Fritschler, PhD, professor of public policy at George Mason University and former assistant secretary for education at the U.S. Department of Education; and Edward Sheridan, PhD, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Houston--said psychologists can:

  • Develop instructional strategies for teachers. Psychologists can help teachers provide more effective instruction, and thus improve student performance, Sclafani said. For example, psychologists can conduct research on teaching strategies--especially in understudied areas such as science and math instruction--to determine the best methods.

  • Help teachers understand assessment and accountability. Psychologists can shed light on the differences among classroom, district and state assessment and accountability, Sclafani said. They can also help teachers and administrators interpret research used in assessment and accountability and help them get their students involved in large-scale studies in collaboration with other school districts.

  • Address assessment challenges. Psychologists can help academic administrators define measurable skills in academic subject areas and obtain research on the effectiveness of academic innovations, Sheridan said. Some of the assessment challenges school officials could face include creating measurable, defined educational goals and descriptions of expertise that can be modified as new fields emerge, and handling the high costs of assessment, as well as its potential financial ramifications, Sheridan added.

  • Help bring increased accountability to higher education. Despite resistance from many faculty and administrators, accountability should be a requirement of colleges and universities as well as K-12 education, Sclafani said.

"I know this has not been a popular topic in higher education, but it's got to be one that becomes part of the discussion," Sclafani told psychologists. "If you can be leaders in that discussion--if you can help them to see how assessment can be used--the dialogue will go forward much more productively than if everyone just puts up their hands and says 'No, no, no. Accountability should never come to higher education.'"

  • Emphasize a positive approach to assessment and accountability. In approaching assessment and accountability positively, faculty in psychology and other areas can use information about student achievement in grant proposals, student recruitment tools and fund-raising, Fritschler said. "This demand for assessment can be very positive for higher education, and if we continue to confront it negatively, assessment is not going to [be as effective]," he said.