The recent Utah Legislature's focus on giving academic institutions a letter grade for performance ("Bad grades" April 24) misses a main point of assessment: to make schools or university departments better for students and other stakeholders.
The University of Utah regularly assesses all 70 degree-granting departments and programs on a seven-year cycle. The assessment starts with a comprehensive self-study and involves both external reviewers who view a department in terms of national and international norms, and internal faculty reviewers who assess the department's performance in terms of local knowledge and realities. The assessment covers faculty, students, staff, curriculum, facilities, and resources.
Rather than assigning a single grade for a complex entity, the final assessment report identifies what the academic unit does well, and what it could do better. Detailed recommendations for improvement form the basis of a public document. And a memorandum of understanding records what actions are expected, who is responsible for taking such actions, and a timetable for those actions. Instead of assigning a superficial and often contentious grade A to F, we regularly and steadily improve education for our students.