Student assessment stresses importance of competency

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Linda Neavel Dickens Ph.D. met with UT faculty and students to discuss how assesment is about creating change through competency based education and emphasis on critical thinking skills.

Photo Credit: Batli Joselevitz | Daily Texan Staff

As higher education in the United States shifts to become more student focused, UT students stand to gain greater competency in essential skills, while academic departments are encouraged to discard their old paradigms of success.

Since 2008, UT has been required by its regional accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, to collect data regarding the competency of its students. To that end, Linda Dickens, director of the office of institutional accreditation and program assessment, held an open forum with staff on Monday to develop assessment strategies.

“Assessment is about identifying what you want students to do and measuring how well they are able to do that,” Dickens said. “It’s a way of making evidence-based decisions.”

Dickens said the assessment data help to answer the question of whether the University fulfills its mission. She said assessments indicate UT’s institutional effectiveness and therefore do not effect specific departments.

“Assessment has nothing to do with faculty productivity or evaluating faculty, though the term ‘institutional effectiveness’ is sometimes wrongly interpreted as that,” Dickens said.

Linda said the assessments she has initiated go beyond GPAs or course grades to measure the competency of students.

Bobby Sterling, an assistant professor in the school of nursing, said the focus on competency is a paradigm shift for students.

“There’s a big difference between students that come to college to earn a degree and students that come to gain competency,” she said. “Students that only want a degree are interested in just passing a class; students that want competency ask, ‘How do I work with others to achieve my goal?’”

Director of the School of Journalism Glenn Frankel said his program has been especially effected by the growing importance of competency in higher education.

“The School of Journalism is implementing a new curriculum as a result of student demand,” he said. “Journalism is exploding in so many ways and students have come back demanding that they be trained in new media, so we’re trying to teach both critical thinking and skills — to think like journalists and to practice journalism.”