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National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Institute Occasional Paper 15: The Seven Red Herrings About Standardized Assessments in Higher Education


Benjamin Paper Cover

Benjamin, R., Miller, M. A., Rhodes, T. L., Banta, T. W., Pike, G. R., & Davies, G. (2012, September). The seven red herrings about standardized assessments in higher education. (NILOA Occasional Paper No. 15). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.



Roger Benjamin, President of Council for Aid to Education, outlines seven red herrings associated with administering and utilizing standardized tests of student learning.  Including a foreword by Peter Ewell, the occasional paper provides four commentaries from national thought leaders in the field of student learning outcomes assessment examining further the promise and pitfalls of using standardized tests to measure and enhance student learning.

Paper Abstract

This occasional paper by Roger Benjamin outlines the merit and role of standardized tests for assessment in higher education by addressing familiar arguments against standardized assessments that have confused participants on each side of the debate about the need for and the possibility of new benchmarks on student learning outcomes. Benjamin argues that the key seven assertions, or red herrings, need to be set aside in order to achieve progress toward the goal of continuous improvement in student learning outcomes. In his foreword, Peter Ewell sets the context for Benjamin's position. Four commentaries by higher education thought leaders knowledgeable about assessment examine further the promise and pitfalls of using standardized tests to measure and enhance student learning.

Biographies of the Authors

Roger BenjaminRoger Benjamin has been President of CAE (Council for Aid to Education) since 2005.  He was a research scientist at RAND from 1990 to 2005 (director of RAND Education, 1994-1999). Previous to his appointment to RAND, he was professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, 1966 to 1983 and associate dean and executive officer, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota, 1980 to 1983, vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost at the University of Pittsburgh, 1983 to 1986, and vice president for academic affairs and provost, University of Minnesota, 1986 to 1988,  and professor of political science, 1988 to 1990.  He is the author or co-author of numerous books, monographs and articles in political economy and public policy, including governance, strategic planning, and assessment in education policy.  His latest book is The New Limits of Education Policy:  Avoiding A Tragedy of the Commons. London: Edward Elgar, 2012.  He directs a program implementing performance assessment throughout the K-16 education system in the United States and beyond. 

Margaret A. Miller is a professor in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, president emerita of the American Association for Higher Education, and editor-in- chief of Change magazine.

Terrel L. Rhodes is the Vice-President for the Office of Quality Curriculum and Assessment at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). He is also director of the annual AAC&U General Education Institute.

Trudy W. Banta is Professor of Higher Education and Senior Advisor to the Chancellor for Academic Planning and Evaluation at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. She is the founding editor of Assessment Update, a bimonthly periodical published since 1989 by Jossey-Bass.

Gary R. Pike is the Executive Director of Information Management and Institutional Research at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, and an Associate Professor of Higher Education.

Gordon Davies served as the Director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and as President of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. He currently serves as a senior advisor to a Lumina Foundation project.

Peter Ewell, NILOA Senior Scholar, is the Vice President at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), a research and development center founded to improve the management effectiveness of colleges and universities.


Comments and Commentaries about "Seven Red Herrings"

The Culture Change Imperative for Learning Assessment

Association for Institutional Research, NILOA Occasional Papers. February 11, 2013.


"Although the discussion has deepened over the years, as evidenced by this collection of essays, the debates are sure to continue into the future about the appropriate merit and role of standardized testing."

Peter Ewell

Peter T. Ewell
Vice President, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS)
Senior Scholar, NILOA