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first_img “It does happen with levers,” he said, “and maybe the accreditation process will be one. Or state legislators. Or members of Congress.” His push comes as college officials in an era of high tuition say they already feel pressure to justify costs. But university officials are wary of the notion that testing regimes should be used to measure all the different institutions that make up American higher education – small liberal arts colleges, large public universities, proprietary schools and religious academies – particularly if there is government involvement. Part of what is driving the demand for accountability is the amount of government money that colleges get. Spellings has said that about one-third of the annual investment in higher education comes from the federal government and that officials know very little about what they are getting in return. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card The commission, appointed last fall by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, has until August to make a report on issues that include accountability, cost and innovation. But already educators are wary of any effort to impose a standardized testing imperative. “To subject colleges to uniform standards is to trivialize what goes on in higher education,” said Leon Botstein, president of Bard College. “Excellence comes in many unusual ways. You cannot apply the rules of high-stakes testing in high schools to universities.” In an interview, Miller said he was not envisioning a higher education version of the No Child Left Behind law, which requires standardizing testing in public schools and penalizes schools whose students do not improve. “There is no way you can mandate a single set of tests, to have a federalist higher education system,” he said. But he said public reporting of collegiate learning as measured through testing “would be greatly beneficial to the students, parents, taxpayers and employers” and that he would like to create a national database of colleges and universities that includes standardized test findings of what skills students gain. “It would be a shame for the academy to say, `We can’t tell you what it is; you have to trust us,”‘ Miller said of higher education. He said he would like the commission to agree on the skills that college students ought to be learning – like writing, critical thinking and problem solving – and to express that view forcefully. “What happens with reform,” he said, “is that it rarely happens overnight, and it rarely happens with a mandate.” A higher education commission named by the Bush administration is examining whether standardized testing should be expanded into universities and colleges to prove that students are learning and to allow easier comparisons on quality. Charles Miller, a business executive who is the commission’s chairman, wrote in a memorandum recently to the 18 other members that he saw a developing consensus over the need for more accountability in higher education. “What is clearly lacking is a nationwide system for comparative performance purposes, using standard formats,” Miller wrote, adding that student learning was a main component that should be measured. Miller was head of the Regents of the University of Texas a few years ago when they directed the university’s nine campuses to use standardized tests to prove that students were learning. He points to the test being tried there and to two other initiatives as promising ways to allow broad assessments of writing, analytical skills and critical thinking. last_img