CUNY moves forward with CLA despite concerns
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 30, 2012 22:04
During the fall semester of 2010, the CUNY Board of Trustees decided to discontinue the CPE (CUNY Proficiency Exam), which had been in place since 2001. The decision was made at the recommendation of a task force convened by Vice Chancellor Alexandra Logue.
The task force concluded in their published report that the test was redundant; given that nearly every student who took the exam passed, it didn’t provide the university with the opportunity to compare CUNY students to other institutions given that the CPE was only administered within CUNY. Finally, the CPE was becoming a very expensive affair for the university. The task force projected that the CPE would eventually cost CUNY five million dollars every year.
A new task force was convened to recommend a new test to be given to CUNY students. They were charged with voting on one of the four following tests: The Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CTAT), The Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP), Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) and ETS Proficiency Profile.
The Chancellery charged the task force with three responsibilities: The first one was to handpick a commercially available test based on criteria such as psychometric quality, cost, facility of obtaining and using results, and the ability to benchmark results externally among others.
The second responsibility was to make recommendations to the chancellery on how to best make sure that the assessment was administered in a way that “represented each college’s undergraduate student body, generated a valid assessment of learning and facilitated comparisons across CUNY colleges and between CUNY and other postsecondary institutions.”
Finally the task force was to develop recommendations on “how the colleges and the chancellery can best use the results to improve teaching and learning throughout CUNY.”
In August of 2011 the task force completed their report titled: “Report of the CUNY Task Force on System-Wide Assessment of Undergraduate Learning Gains.” They came out in favor of the CLA in overwhelming numbers.
In table 1: Summary of Consensus Patterns of Task Force Members’ Rankings, each member was asked to give each test an “acceptable”, “unacceptable” or “no-consensus” ranking. The CLA received 12 “acceptable” rankings, by far the most, beating out ETSPP, which received 8. Also worth noting, is that the CLA only received one “no consensus” and zero “unacceptable” marks.
The task force recommended the CLA to be adopted by CUNY in a unanimous vote with one abstention.
In CUNY’s 2011-2012 Midyear Progress Report The Office of Academic Affairs outlines a plan for the implementation of the CLA. Referenced under “Goal # 3.7,” the OAA aims to administer the test to a sample of 100 freshmen at each and every one of CUNY’s 18 undergraduate institutions. Before the process gets so far the test is to be piloted at four CUNY colleges. These are LaGuardia Community College, Bronx Community College, Brooklyn College and City College. Coming up this summer the OAA will analyze the results and “prepare full guidelines for the fall 2012”
There have been some criticisms aimed at the CLA itself and the way the test was adopted. A company called Council for Aid to Education (CAE) administers the CLA. The chairman of CAE, Benno Schmidt, is also the chairman of the Board of Trustees at CUNY. According to Philip A. Pecorino, a professor at Queensborough Community College this situation presents a conflict of interest.
“His defense is that he’s separated himself from the handling of the CLA decision making but that’s probably insufficient because those making the decision are influenced by his presence on the board,” Pecorino said.
The Ticker was not successful in reaching out to Benno Schmidt for a comment about the potential conflict of interest.
Some of the criticism has come from the task force itself. In the report the task force emphasized that while they recommended the CLA they made sure to make a note of the fact that the CLA assesses “a limited domain and should not be regarded as a comprehensive measure of general education outcomes defined by CUNY colleges.”
Additionally, the task force had concerns about the possibility of comparing CUNY’s student body to other colleges that have administered the CLA because their respective student bodies “differs in important aspects” which were not explained by the report. The task force made sure to note that all the other candidate tests had the same flaw.
Prof. Pecorino wrote a report titled “Report on the CUNY Task Force on System Wide Assessment: The CLA is coming.”
According to Pecorino, the most significant flaw of the CLA is that it doesn’t provide CUNY with the answer to the question what do students know when they enter CUNY and what do they know when they graduate?
“This got nothing to what a student knows, it’s pushed by the Chancellor and many others across the nation as we need to know what a student knows when a student enters and when a student leaves,” he said. “That’s a wonderful goal but this does not even bother to look into that.