Outcomes Assessment: Conceptual and Other Problems

By John W. Powell

Despite their plausibility and their having become common practice, programs of outcomes assessment are fraught with problems. Disclosing the problems requires critical thought and a skeptical attitude at odds with most of the relevant literature. The practice lacks a basis in research, though circular, question-begging faux research attempts to caulk the gaps. Its real basis, discernible on investigation, raises more problems. There is a further problem of map versus territory, in that accountability encroaches on, and becomes confused with, that for which we are accounting—practitioners confuse outcomes with education, with the result that education becomes routinized and mechanical to-do lists. In addition to displacing teaching and learning, outcomes assessment divides the faculty, contributes to a misrepresentation of higher education as more narrow and simple than it in fact is, encroaches on faculty decision making and the ability of professors to claim curriculum and the means of its delivery as the purview of faculty members, and distracts us from more important and more urgent needs for action to improve education.

Download "Outcomes Assessment: Conceptual and Other Problems" or read below.