Having earlier accused the colleges of ripping off students by charging too much and delivering too little, Secretary (of Education William J.) Bennett has recently turned to the theme of assessment and is strongly urging colleges and universities to demonstrate that students are actually acquiring the skills and knowledge that their institutions claim to be providing. . . . Secretary Bennett's offer to work with the colleges and universities on the assessment issue is a welcome invitation. The opening he has provided presents an opportunity for a cooperative rather than an antagonistic relationship between the secretary and the colleges and universities. And assessment is an important issue on which colleges and universities must take the initiative.
. . . This movement should concern all of us. While it represents a laudable interest in improving the quality of undergraduate education, it could result in a stultifying rigidity and standardization in the underground curricula of colleges. A testing approach to assessment could establish a minimum threshhold for academic achievement, but it holds little promise for promoting excellence. . . . Above all, I urge you to provide leadership in devising means for assessing the learning accomplished. . . . If the country's most prestigious institutions do not show the way on this politically popular issue, then it is likely that the movement toward state-imposed entrance and exit requirements based upon standardized testing will sweep the nation. That would not be good for the long-term quality and vitality of American higher education. . . .