Journalism Majors Beware: New Tests Hold Schools Accountable for Students' Practical Skills

Britain and the Collegiate Learning Assessment want to measure school success by whether students can succeed at work.

journalism students in lecture hall using mac laptops

Many college graduates are devoid of practical skills, according to new evidence from the provocative book, Academically Adrift. Fed up with the disconnect between employers and schools, two new tests aim to measure how schools prepare students for the real world: Britain may publish how economically successful a school’s students are after graduation, and the Collegiate Learning Assessment determines whether university graduates have any workplace communication skills.

British Parliament is on the brink of enacting a law to publish what it calls a school’s “destination data,” which shows "if pupils are moving into good university courses, high-quality apprenticeships, or satisfying jobs—[it] will give parents real-world information about how well schools are preparing young people for a fulfilling future.”

The bold move has, unsurprisingly, ignited the ire of unions. "The data is useful. Every school should know where its students go and what happens to them, but if it does then become an accountability measure you're holding heads responsible for things largely outside their control,” warns Russell Hoby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, a powerful British labor union. Of course, if it is true that the ultimate success factors are “outside” of a school’s control, then educators might have to worry about more than just how they’re being evaluated; it might call into question their very existential purpose.

Back in the Western Hemisphere, the Collegiate Learning Assessment rocked the boat with the release of Academically Adrift. The CLA, a measure which is begrudgingly being adopted by more and more universities, poses a series of tasks to students, such as writing a convincing report to one’s boss. In this task, students read emails, reports, and newspaper articles in order to support or oppose the purchase of a fictional technology company [PDF link].

For now, the CLA is still a voluntary assessment; but if it succeeds in becoming a true accountability measure, it could call into question a number of breezy college majors as well as whether the hard sciences are including enough business skills courses. For decades, schools have kept a safe distance from the marketplace. A fierce battle is looming over whether that privilege can be maintained for decades to come.

Follow Gregory Ferenstein on Twitter or email him.

[Image by Chris Corwin]

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1 Comments

  • David Kaiser

    Hmmm, while educational institutions have traditionally taught some sort of domain knowledge (i.e. history or English lit) reasonably well, and good grades can be seen as a proxy for drive aand ability to complete a task on deadline, many of the skills that are most needed in the work place are either not taught or not measured (emotional intelligence, integrity, ability to lead others, organization and planning) or actively discouraged (creativity, innovation, risk-taking, spotting opportunities). Don't get me wrong, I highly value education, but it is not particularly predictive of success in "the real world," and I would like to see that changed.

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Executive Coach and CEO
    www.DarkMatterConsulting.com