July 20, 2006 09:00 ET

ETS Study Recommends Higher Education Accountability System

Authors Urge Steps to Measure Both Educational and Workplace Readiness

PRINCETON, NJ -- (MARKET WIRE) -- July 20, 2006 --With little hard evidence to demonstrate postsecondary education's effectiveness, ETS researchers have recommended a broad national system to better understand student learning in two- and four-year colleges and universities.

The report, "A Culture of Evidence: Postsecondary Assessment and Learning Outcomes," comes as the federal Commission on the Future of Higher Education is developing a comprehensive national strategy for postsecondary education. Authored by Carol A. Dwyer, Catherine M. Millett and David G. Payne of ETS, the report recommends focusing on four dimensions of student learning:

--  workplace readiness and general skills
--  domain-specific knowledge and skills
--  soft skills such as teamwork, communications and creativity
--  student engagement with learning
"Colleges and universities face continued pressure to prove their effectiveness in an increasingly difficult fiscal environment," said Mari Pearlman, Senior Vice President of Higher Education at ETS. "We hope this paper will further the discussion about how our system of higher education might respond to this challenge."

The report recommends a systematic, data-driven, comprehensive approach to measuring student learning with direct, valid and reliable measures.

"Most of the information we use today consists of either input measures such as grades and test scores or output measures such as number of degrees granted or students employed," said report co-author Dwyer. "We need to start addressing what student competencies are when they've arrived and what they are after they've departed college."

The paper concludes that there are currently no models or instruments that meet the need of a comprehensive system, and offers several recommendations to policymakers to implement such a system.

"Not only must we focus on what students have learned, but more importantly, are they ready to use it?" added co-author Millett. "We have to have better data on whether students are ready for the global workplace if we want to remain competitive with our economic challengers."

The authors recommend that the six regional postsecondary accrediting agencies be charged with integrating a system of assessing student learning into their ongoing reviews of institutions.

"America's colleges and universities continue to be the world leader in higher education, but we should and can do better," said Payne, the third co-author of the report. "With a better understanding of student learning, our higher education institutions will be able to move forward with specific information on how to improve their programs while remaining accountable to their many constituencies."

To access the report, visit

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 24 million tests annually, in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide. Additional information is available at

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