Friday, April 27, 2007

The federal government wants to start tracking how well the nation's colleges teach

Harvard Physics Professor Eric Mazur is a pioneer in a growing movement that sees more aggressive evaluation as a way to transform higher education. Over the last two years, an increasing number of colleges and universities, including Harvard, have begun using critical thinking and writing tests to see if their students are learning what they should. And now the federal government is pushing to require all colleges to regularly assess students' progress -- and reveal the results to the public.

This month, the U.S. Department of Education is working with accrediting agencies to design new rules, pushing to require colleges to produce evidence that they're making progress with students and to require accreditors to compare the results of similar schools. The rules are inspired by work of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, a bipartisan panel convened by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

By Nov. 1, new rules have to be approved, and by July 2008, accrediting agencies must begin implementing the changes. But the effect on colleges, which are accredited every 10 years, would be staggered over time.

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