Community Colleges and Measures of Quality: Moving Beyond Test Scores

by Donna Tonini / Dec 4, 2012

The pursuit of quality education is a fairly universal goal amongst schools, the governments that fund them and the employers who hire their graduates. What remains contested ground, however, is not only how to define quality, but also what measures of quality denote progress. Although measures of school quality typically involve evaluating student achievement and school performance, critics argue that a focus on test scores offers too narrow a view of student and school success. The Rand Corporation’s recent report advocating expanded measures of school performance argues for broadening evaluative techniques to account for academic status and growth, as well as student progress tracking. Additionally, the Rand report also calls for the creation of interstate consortia to develop and evaluate new performance measures to take advantage of economies of scope and scale:

In light of the variance in state capacity to develop and test new measures and the desirability of developing measures that are consistent across states, offering federal grants for such development could create incentives for states to coordinate their efforts, as through interstate consortia.

The Obama Administration, in its quest to expand postsecondary education opportunities in the United States, established a $2 Billion dollar grant program intended to “enhance ties among community colleges, universities, employers and other local partners while ensuring that students have access to the skills and resources they need to compete for high-wage, high-skill careers.”  In its first year, roughly half of the awards under this grant, titled the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program, were awarded to consortia of community colleges.

OCCRL is fielding a team of evaluators to assess the progress of two of the Round 1 TAACCCT consortia of community colleges (H2P and NISGTC), each of which are recipients of TAACCCT funding.  One of the goals of the evaluation is to examine the strategies employed by these consortia to implement new standards and measures of progress towards meeting the priorities of the TAACCCT grant.  As the grant exists to expand and improve community colleges’ ability to deliver short-term education and career training programs as well as enhance employment outcomes for students, traditional measures of student achievement will be insufficient measures of quality.  Evaluating how the consortiums move beyond test scores to employ alternative measures of quality will offer valuable insight into how these performance outcomes can translate into enhancing quality at the program level.

Reducing our reliance on test scores and using alternative means of measuring quality is certainly not a novel idea, but still relatively uncommon.  We are interested to learn of other methods being employed by other colleges, schools and institutions.  What alternative measures of quality are you employing and for what purpose?  In what ways are you using alternative means of measuring quality – in place of or in addition to test scores?  How do these alternative measures enhance the quality of your program evaluations?  Please share the lessons you have learned and any best practices you recommend regarding employing meaningful measures of quality in programs and outcomes.