Remember when the iPad was first released, and everyone giggled like sixth
graders that Apple used the word “pad?” As if the word’s singular use was
relegated to feminine hygiene. Now “iPad” is spoken routinely without comment.
It’s kind of like that with academic SLOs. At first, it was ironic and comical that
bureaucracy named “SLO” was created to actually slow down teachers’ work.
But now, years later, SLOs are ubiquitous, the irony has worn off, and nobody’s
SLOs – a brief history
It has already been over 10 years ago that Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)
were introduced to academia. In 2002, the newly adopted accreditation
standards included SLOs. At the time, the California State Academic Senate
was very resistant to SLOs, and stated in a 2004 Resolution, “Local senates are
urged not to accept for adoption externally designed, prefabricated SLOs.” The
Senate even opposed the term itself: “Local senates and curriculum committees
are strongly advised to use “objectives” in Course Outlines of Record as opposed
to “Student Learning Outcomes”…the term “Student Learning Outcomes” is
suggestive of assessment choices that are rightfully a matter of course level
determination by the instructors of record.” http://asccc.org/node/174994
Like iPad jokes wearing thin, only two years later, in 2006, the Academic
Senate got a little worn down and began inviting the Accrediting Commission for
Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) to offer sessions on SLOs. Around
that time, in 2008, the Lumina Foundation appointed a new president, and its
focus shifted from supporting educational alternatives to supporting educational
politics. One of Lumina’s favored political angles is the Degree Qualifications
Profile, or DQP, which is a prefabricated SLO for higher education. DQP is
regaled as a model corporate approach to education, developed not by faculty
and educators themselves, but rather by millionaires and billionaires who seek to
change the face of education.
By 2010, the Academic Senate created a new Student Learning and
Accreditation Committee, recognized SLOs as an “important area,” and adopted
a paper to implement the process.
Over the last 3 years, Lumina has granted WASC and ACCJC approximately
$2M to “explore the use of the Degree Qualifications Profile…at community
colleges.” Currently, 14 western community colleges are being trained in DQP,
after they were invited to apply when Lumina awarded ACCJC a $450,000
grant about a year ago (incidentally, this is the very first grant ACCJC has been
awarded in its 50-year history). Forty-three states are now using DQP – the very
“externally designed, prefabricated SLOs” the California State Academic Senate
urged local senates to not use.
This opens up a new area of administration, which appears to be one of
ACCJC’s favorite aspects of education. The Joint Legislative Audit Committee’s
(JLAC) background report for its August, 2013 investigation into ACCJC
states that “The imposition of SLOs for student orientations, administration
of financial aid, student services and instructional programs has created new
costly administrative positions, programs and structures. Examples include the
accumulation of college SLO coordinators, SLO analysts and SLO advisory
committees; SLO workshops, evaluations and trainings; and new campus
administrative centers such as the Planning, Research and Institutional
Effectiveness (PRIE) division at Sacramento City College. Distinct from SLO-
imposed obligations, colleges also pay expenses for ACCJC visiting teams;
consultants; special trustees; additional administrative personnel and other
related costs.” *
Can community colleges afford even more administration? How do we know it’s
Assessing student learning is a very good practice. Checking for understanding
is an integral part of quality teaching at all levels, and every good teacher does
this consistently. Teachers design and implement assessments that are unique
to their subject matter and the teaching methods they use. They have to be able
to use what’s best for them and their material, just as students have to be able to
employ their best learning methods to succeed.
This is all a part of pedagogy, and it’s been working great since one-room
schoolhouses. So is it surprising that 10 years after the standardized SLO,
there is no widely published data on its effectiveness? ACCJC materials quote
faculty on how SLOs are implemented, but not on how they’re actually improving
education. Again, JLAC weighs in on the matter: “The SLOs are included in the
assessment of instructional programs, student services, financial aid and student
orientation. Numerous faculty, staff and administrative hours are dedicated to
SLOs, detracting time away from educating students and operating campuses.
Since ACCJC is self-regulated and self-assessed, there is little independent
evidence, if any, that the SLO mandate has resulted in improved teaching,
program accountability, or an increase in student academic achievement.” *
ACCJC’s own data on the success of SLOs appears to simply measure the
number of schools using them. Instead of assessing students’ learning, what’s
really being measured is how effective ACCJC’s harsh sanctions are in forcing
colleges to adopt its imposed criteria. All of this comes at a great cost to the
taxpayers as more and more bureaucracy is built up around SLOs that do not
have a proven track record of improving education.
SLOs & Sanctions
Nonetheless, ACCJC persists with SLOs, and wields this accreditation standard
punitively. Ten out of 16 California community colleges placed on sanction from
2012-13 were penalized, in part, for not developing SLOs.
ACCJC has also formally recommended SLOs be used in faculty evaluations,
which of course, they cannot demand.
What the Union Has Done About SLOs
At the state level, CFT has filed a nearly 300-page lawsuit against ACCJC http:/
/www.cft.org/images/cc/docs/CFT_complaint-9-23-13-V2.pdf . A portion of the
complaint deals with ACCJC’s policy of requiring that SLOs be part of faculty
evaluations and that they be listed on syllabus. Both of these mandates from
ACCJC violate the Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA), as they are
mandatory subjects of bargaining.
It has become increasingly clear that these stop-gap measures of dealing with
ACCJC’s demands are just that: stop-gap, and therefore insufficient. Something
more needs to be done.
But that’s a lot of work, too, and we don’t seem to be gaining ground. So we
have to ask the question: why not just suck it up and develop SLOs so we can
The short answer is because SLOs are dangerous. They are not about student
success; they are about gaining control of a tool to assess teachers and
institutions, not students. Remember, SLOs come from the private sector,
which is embedded in a “pay for performance” model. Bringing this model into
education will set impossible standards for faculty and institutions, ultimately
putting in place a “need” to replace public schools with private entities where
corporations will profit and control the curriculum.
This is not science fiction; it’s already happening in the K-12 system,
and the communities that are most negatively affected are the poor and
It is important to note that Lumina, an “advocacy philanthropy group,” has strong
associations with ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council — Rick Perry,
Scott Walker, the Koch Brothers, etc.). Their goals are to privatize public higher
education, get rid of tenure and “high paid” full-time faculty, destroy teachers’
unions, and turn education a private commodity for corporate use rather than
The ultimate goal for Lumina and ALEC is to monetize public education. In order
for this shift to occur, “big data,” more administrators, and programs like SLOs
and DQPs must be institutionalized.
The more we institutionalize privatized education norms, the harder it is for us
to unwind ourselves out of them. Stemming this tide in community colleges is
essential not only for our survival as a public entity, but also in solidarity with the
K-12 system and 4-year schools.
Where to Go with SLOs
This very moment is an especially interesting time for SLOs.
ACCJC is increasingly vulnerable, as its hostility towards community colleges
is under fire from AFT/CFT, the California Superintendent of Education, and
the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, among others. ACCJC’s leadership
is generally regarded out of control, and a leadership change isn’t out of the
question. Could this lead to a breakdown in relationship between profiteers like
Lumina and accreditation? If that turns out to be the case, either fighting SLOs
or implementing them might be a moot point: we may not need them.
As we watch that develop, you can consider the financial motivation behind
SLOs, and where that influence would lead teaching and learning. It’s the
union’s job to take care of immediate, local matters as well as analyze the big
picture and implications for the future. We’re also here to break down issues so
you can be fully informed when considering your own priorities. And to remind
you how funny it still is that SLO = s l o w.
*(See Marty Hittelman’s excerpt, california_joint_legislative_audit_committee, at
Co-authored by Debbie Forward and Shannon Lienhart