May 04, 2007 12:00 ET

ETS Report Gives Colleges and Universities a Guide to Nation's Most Widely Used Standardized Learning Outcomes Assessments

PRINCETON, NJ -- (MARKET WIRE) -- May 4, 2007 -- With federal mandates for a national higher education accountability system expected in the near future, ETS has published a snapshot guide to the most widely used, national standardized outcomes assessments. The report comes as two- and four-year colleges and universities take a closer look at their own measures for showing evidence of institutional effectiveness.

The report, "A Culture of Evidence: Critical Features of Assessments for Postsecondary Student Learning," provides essential information about the most prevalent assessments of student learning. The 12 assessments, from nine different test development companies and universities, were selected for being the most salient to current policy concerns. The ETS work benefited from the input of a national advisory panel of assessment, policy and accreditation experts, as well as the other assessment organizations, who checked the descriptions of their assessments.

"In light of the national focus on higher education accountability, many college and university administrators are beginning a critical review of their own assessment programs and evaluating whether their current measures for proving effectiveness of student learning are valid and comprehensive, or whether they need to consider other assessment tools," says Mari Pearlman, ETS's Senior Vice President for Higher Education. "As a not-for-profit research and assessment organization, ETS is uniquely positioned to work with leaders in higher education and the assessment community to provide objective information that can serve as a conversation starter for institutions. This is a guide for learning about critical features of the most widely used outcomes assessments, such as intended population, item format and availability of comparative data."

The report, authored by ETS researchers Catherine M. Millett, Leslie M. Stickler, David G. Payne and Carol A. Dwyer, features easy-to-use tables that give institutions immediate, basic information in 10 categories that the authors, in consultation with the advisory panel members, identified as critical factors to evaluate when considering whether to use an assessment. They are: intended population; testing sample; items and forms; pre- and post-testing; level of results; time required; scores yielded; comparative data availability, cost and institutional data pool.

Another table in the report shows which of the four dimensions of learning each of the assessments measure: workplace readiness and general skills; domain-specific knowledge; soft skills; or student engagement.

"We encourage each college or university to start the assessment conversation with some key questions, such as 'What kinds of statements would we like to be able to make about our students' learning?' and 'What types of evidence would we need to have to support these statements?'" says co-author Millett. "This guide is intended to help institutions to begin those conversations by providing an overview and practical information about the national standardized assessments available on the market today."

The report is the second in a series of "Culture of Evidence" white papers. In the first report, "A Culture of Evidence: Postsecondary Assessment and Learning Outcomes," Dwyer, Millet and Payne proposed that a comprehensive national system for determining the nature and the extent of college learning could be developed, focusing on the aforementioned dimensions of student learning. The first report, available at also asserted that postsecondary education's current state of knowledge about the effectiveness of a college education is limited and that this lack of evidence hampers informed decision making by institutions, students and their families, and the future employers of college graduates.

A PDF of "A Culture of Evidence: Critical Features of Assessments for Postsecondary Student Learning" can be downloaded from

About ETS

ETS is a nonprofit institution with the mission to advance quality and equity in education by providing fair and valid assessments, research and related services for all people worldwide. In serving individuals, educational institutions and government agencies around the world, ETS customizes solutions to meet the need for teacher professional development products and services, classroom and end-of-course assessments, and research-based teaching and learning tools. Founded in 1947, ETS today develops, administers and scores more than 50 million tests annually, in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide. Additional information is available at

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