Link to: Philadelphia Inquirer | 03/28/2006 | Colleges pushed to prove worth

Some time ago, Gardner proudly announced that he had passed 8th grade math. Soon, students at the nation’s 3000 universities may be able to display a little logo on their facebook or myspace accounts proudly documenting that they had passed their grade 16 test and were legitimately able to claim to be college graduates.

Over 100 institutions, including Lehigh, are experimenting with a standardized test that will demonstrate to legislators, business leaders and tuition paying parents that colleges really are doing their jobs and educating students. How will they do it–with essay tests like these:

Sample Writing Prompt: Public figures such as actors, politicians and athletes should expect people to be interested in their private lives. When they seek a public role, they should expect that they will lose at least some of their privacy.

That will be graded by a computer program called “e-rater”. Graduate students will be employed to grade the task performance section, which will include questions such as this:

Sample Performance Task

You are the assistant to Pat Williams, the president of DynaTech, a company that makes precision electronic instruments and navigational equipment. Sally Evans, a member of DynaTech’s sales force, recommended that DynaTech buy a small private plane (a SwiftAir 235) that she and other members of the sales force could use to visit customers. Pat was about to approve the purchase when there was an accident involving a SwiftAir 235.

You are provided with the following documentation:

1. Newspaper articles about the accident
2. Federal accident report on in-flight breakups in single-engine planes
3. Pat’s e-mail to you and Sally’s e-mail to Pat
4. Charts on SwiftAir’s performance characteristics
5. Amateur Pilot article comparing SwiftAir 235 to similar planes
6. Pictures and description of SwiftAir Models 180 and 235

Please prepare a memo that addresses several questions, including what data support or refute the claim that the type of wing on the SwiftAir 235 leads to more in-flight breakups, what other factors might have contributed to the accident and should be taken into account, and your overall recommendation about whether DynaTech should purchase the plane.

I hope there’s some kind of handicap system to level the playing field for non-aerospace engineers.