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  Measuring Up 2000 Earns National Attention
  Questions and Answers about Measuring Up 2000
  How We Grade
  Measuring Up 2000 is Released at the National Press Club
  Important Questions
  Addressing Student Learning
  How Does Measuring Up 2000 Measure Up?
  Focusing Public Attention
  Making the Grade
  Sobering Up in 2001
  A Gift for Our Nation
  A Good “First Draft”
  A Herculean Effort
  A Useful Tool
  A Fair Comparison
  Meaningful, Measurable Goals

National CrossTalk Fall 1999
News Editorial Other Voices Interview

A Herculean Effort

Though thoughtfully done, the report tends to be a tad deceptive

By Stephen R. Portch
Stephen R. Portch is chancellor of the University System of Georgia.

ALL THE WORLD loves a report card. It’s simple. It’s digestible. And it has all the appearance of objectivity.

So it was with Measuring Up 2000. There were certain ironies in its release. The never-ending presi-dential elections dominated what might otherwise have been “Measuring Up” media space. And, of course, presidential elections are supposed to be simple, digestible and objective. Not so. But first the positives. Measuring Up 2000 certainly stimulated debate and, in a particularly delicious move, received its own report card from American Association of State Colleges and Universities (B+ for debate stimulation, and a gentleman’s C on structure and approach).

The report was ambitious and thoughtfully done. While public attention was focused on the report cards themselves, the actual document was dense with data, complete with context, and enriched with narrative. Benchmarking and cross-state comparisons are frightfully difficult and complex, especially given the notorious unreliability of data; this was a Herculean and respectable effort.

Refreshingly, the report showed its willingness to slice data in new and interesting ways (e.g., ACT/SAT data not on averages, but on top scorers). Furthermore, the report reinforced that education is a continuum and that the correlation between preparation and performance demands attention. Indeed, this provides even more ammunition for those of us who believe P–16 initiatives are the only way to go.

That having been said, however, the report tends to be a tad deceptive. Let’s start with the title (or, to be more precise, the subtitle). As with any good romance novel, it captures attention. But this really was not a “Report Card for Higher Education.” First, it included all postsecondary education (two-year colleges, technical schools, public colleges and universities, and independent colleges and universities). Second (having split that semantic hair), it really and truly was a report card on comprehensive educa-tion conditions in a state (and, arguably, social conditions). If students in a state were poorly “pre-pared,” then “participation,” “completion” and “benefits” were likely to suffer. While this reinforces a critical message about the importance of preparation, it almost inevitably dooms and compounds the rest of the grades.

Another deceptive element is the apparent objec-tivity. Lots of numbers, colored bar charts, and multi-ple categories lend credence to objectivity. Yet, as anyone who has graded anything knows, subjectivity lurks just below the surface. For example, the decision to grade against the “top states” rather than the aver-age makes a difference, especially in underscoring the gap between the top and the bottom. While perfectly legitimate, this is a value judgement that makes a dif-ference.

A value judgement that completely undermined the report’s credibility in Georgia was the decision to base “affordability” largely on needs-based aid. In the state that birthed HOPE (a merit-based program), the decision resulted in a D+ for affordability. That simply didn’t ring true for the over 100,000 students this year (and their parents) who are paying no tuition or mandatory fees. A simple cross-referencing with the report’s own very useful public opinion poll should have raised doubts with the authors about the validity of the grade. A mere 15 percent of Georgians said the price of college was out of reach, versus 24 percent nationally. The five states that got A’s on affordabili-ty from the authors didn’t necessarily get them from their citizens: California (24 percent), Illinois (26 percent), Minnesota (17 percent), North Carolina (25 percent) and Utah (23 percent). Such inconsisten-cies deserve further study and should result in changes—or a more explicit declaration of values.

So, what grade would I give the report card? Its own favorite grade: “Incomplete,” with the full understanding that most of us would trade our first grade in college for an I.

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