Are Quests for a “Culture of Assessment” Mired in a “Culture War” Over Assessment? A Q-Methodological Inquiry

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The “Assessment Movement” in higher education has generated some of the most wide-ranging and heated discussions that the academy has experienced in a while. On the one hand, accrediting agencies, prospective and current clientele, and the public-at-large have a clear vested interest in ensuring that colleges and universities actually deliver on the student learning outcomes that they promise. Anything less would be tantamount to a failure of institutional accountability if not outright fraud. On the other hand, it is no secret that efforts to foster a “culture of assessment” among institutions of higher learning have frequently encountered resistance, particularly on the part of faculty unconvinced that the aspirations of the assessment movement are in fact achievable. One consequence of this tension is the emergence of an embryonic literature devoted to the study of processes that monitor, enhance, or deter the cultivation of a “culture of assessment” with sufficient buy-in among all institutional stakeholders, faculty included. Despite employment of a wide-ranging host of research methods in this literature, a significant number of large unresolved issues remain, making it difficult to determine just how close to a consensual, culture of assessment we have actually come. Because one critical lesson of extant research in this area is that “metrics matter,” we approach the subjective controversy over outcomes assessment through an application of Q methodology. Accordingly, we comb the vast “concourse” on assessment that has emerged among stakeholders recently to generate a 50 item Q sample representative of the diverse subjectivity at issue. Forty faculty and administrators from several different institutions completed the Q-sort which resulted in two strong factors: the Anti-Assessment Stalwarts and the Defenders of the Faith. Suggestions are offered regarding strategies for reconciling these “dueling narratives” on outcomes assessment.

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