Skills Assessment and Behaviourism

This was going to be a short twitter thread, then it got too long, so I made a blog post instead. I read an opinion piece in the Toronto Star today and I’m concerned. Mostly I’m concerned about the train of thought it represents. The article, “We need to start giving soft skills more credit“, is the newest version of similar work around soft/transferable skills that’s been around for years, but now with AI.

This seems like a good thing, because employers want employees with strong transferable skills, and colleges and universities already teach technical skills, and programs are designed so that students pick up transferable skills along the way. My problem is that the discourse is always focused on a behaviourist understanding of people. It presupposes that:

  1. Students must be explicitly taught something to learn it
  2. Evaluation means learning happened
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Assessment, Research, and Ethics

This was originally posted at SA-Exchange, but the site has since shut down and so it is now posted in its entirety here.

by Noah D. Arney, Mount Royal University

This Research, Assessment & Evaluation series is brought to you by the CACUSS Research, Assessment, Evaluation Community of Practice.

The idea for this post came from a colleague of mine who was telling me about a new project he had implemented. He explained why he and another colleague had designed the project, what they wanted to do with it, how the roll out happened, what he saw happen based on the one on one interviews he was doing with students, what he thought that meant, and how he changed the program as a result of it. Then he told me how he didn’t feel he had remembered to assess it.

He had, of course, assessed the roll out, and then utilized that information to improve his practice. What he meant was that he hadn’t conducted research on the project. I suspect a lot of student affairs practitioners have similar thoughts, that our assessment needs to be done at the level of academic research.

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Soft Skills and Standardized Tests

The governor of New York recently proposed that 50% of teachers evaluations be based on the results of standardized tests. I’m not going to go into great detail about how much of fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of standardized tests that is. The short version is that standardized tests give the most useful information when disaggregated, so for example looking at a district by district sample, or by selecting randomized classrooms from the entire state/province to give an overall picture. Other people have explained what a problem it is to hold teachers responsible for things they don’t have full control over. I’m not going to go into that today. Instead I’m going to focus on the labour market.

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