Concept would put colleges to the test

Published: Thursday, May 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 10:42 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Accountability testing may be coming to a university near you.
Imagine a new test that all university students would be required to take twice - upon admission and either at the time they graduate or between their sophomore and junior years. The results of those tests would be used to measure the "performance" of the university they attend. Those measurements would be used to allocate at least some of the funding the schools get from the state.
The concept is still on the drawing board and surfaced during an organizational discussion of the new Board of Governors, a voter-created panel charged with overseeing the state's universities.
"What's measured gets done, and what's incentivized gets done quicker," Education Commissioner Jim Horne told his fellow board members at the group's second-ever meeting on Wednesday.
Horne was supporting the concept of "outcomes-based testing," which was first raised by board member Steve Uhlfelder, who volunteered to be on the board's new "accountability" committee.
"I want to make sure when someone smart goes (into college), they're smarter coming out," Uhlfelder said. "We don't know that right now, and neither does any university system in the nation."
Uhlfelder said if the universities want the state Legislature to give the boards of trustees lump-sum funding and more authority to set tuition rates, they must offer some kind of "discernible" accountability model.
While no one spoke against the concept that university performance should be measured, one board member and two university presidents expressed doubt about doing so with a broad new testing program.
University of Central Florida President John Hitt said imposing a program "like the FCAT" would be "difficult and time-consuming," and the universities should not have to pay for it.
"Don't kid yourself that you're going to get it for free," Hitt said.
"I am a little concerned (that) this is a potential minefield in the same way the FCAT is," said board member Richard Briggs, a University of Florida faculty member. "How you devise a plan to measure success is critical.
"If we do it correctly, it could be a great success. But if we don't do it correctly, it could do more harm than good."
In his comments, Ulhfelder suggested that the board may wish to require that students take the newly revised SAT - which now includes a writing component - both when entering and graduating from college as a way of measuring how much the students learn.
Horne later suggested that it may be better for universities to implement a "midpoint exam" to determine how much undergraduates learned in their first two years of college.
Asked whether a new testing program was necessary, Horne said, "Unless someone can come up with some other way to ensure we are producing quality."
Also at Wednesday's meeting, the board approved the creation of three new Ph.D. programs: nursing at UCF, industrial and systems engineering at Florida International University; and music at the University of South Florida.

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