When everyone gets an “A”, how can schools distinguish true scholars from slackers?

One college has come up with an innovative exit assessment to make its final determination.

Assessment can be a dirty word, especially when it comes from the top down, and neither faculty nor students are convinced that it measures anything meaningful. But Evergreen State College’s new assessment – which is its only graduation requirement – has been embraced by both groups as a valuable part of the undergraduate experience. The academic statement assessment asks students to think and write, over and over again throughout their college careers, about what they’ve learned: why have they made the educational choices they have, and what is it all adding up to? The final iteration of the assessment becomes a cover letter or guide to students’ transcripts, offering other institutions and would-be employers particular insight into the document before them.

Fans of the academic statement say it’s much more than that, in that it forces students to become more intentional about the educational and life choices they’re making. That means, in theory, that they’re becoming better human beings – the point of a liberal arts education.

And while the academic statement requirement has been described by those involved in its conception as “very Evergreen” – the Olympia, Wash., public liberal arts college doesn’t use traditional letter grading averages or have typical majors and minors, and its students are overwhelmingly nontraditional — students, faculty and administrators say there’s no reason it can’t be exported to other institutions dedicated to meaningful assessment models.

“I’ve learned that having access to an education like this is a massive privilege given to a minority of people throughout history,” said David Skattebo, a 21-year old junior studying education and empowerment at Evergreen, where he transferred from a private institution in the Midwest. “I’ve learned I want to use my education to prepare me to be an agent of change in the world. I don’t know if this realization would have jumped out at me with such clarity had I not been told to critically reflect on my experiences and my education in a formal way like the academic statement.”

Skattebo’s current academic statement offers additional insight into how alienated he felt from higher education before coming to Evergreen, and how his experience there has changed his world view.

…Academic statements aren’t tomes. They’re no more than 750 words, which frequently makes the assignment more challenging; it can be harder to “write short,” said Michael Zimmerman, provost, who helped oversee the academic statement program’s launch. This is the first year it’s been required of all new students, and existing students are encouraged to participate, brainstorming each fall with faculty mentors and drafting a new version each year.