As alternatives to the college diploma have been bandied about recently, one question always seems to emerge: How do you validate badges or individual classes as a credential in the absence of a degree?
One company that has been hailed by some as revolutionizing introductory courses might have an answer.
The company, StraighterLine, announced on Thursday that beginning this fall it will offer students access to three leading critical-thinking tests, allowing them to take their results to employers or colleges to demonstrate their proficiency in certain academic areas.
The tests—the Collegiate Learning Assessment, sponsored by the Council for Aid to Education, and the Proficiency Profile, from the Educational Testing Service—each measure critical thinking and writing, among other academic areas. The iSkills test, also from ETS, measures the ability of a student to navigate and critically evaluate information from digital technology.
Until now, the tests were largely used by colleges to measure student learning, but students did not receive their scores. That’s one reason that critics of the tests have questioned their effectiveness since students have little incentive to do well.
Burck Smith, the founder and chief executive of StraighterLine, which offers online, self-paced introductory courses, said on Thursday that students would not need to take classes with StraighterLine in order to sit for the tests. But he hopes that, for students who do take both classes and tests, the scores on the test will help validate StraighterLine courses.
StraighterLine doesn’t grant degrees and so can’t be accredited. It depends on accredited institutions to accept its credits, which has not always been an easy task for the company.
“For students looking to get a leg up in the job market or getting into college,” Mr. Smith said, “this will give them a way to show they’re proficient in key academic areas.”
Mr. Smith said many details of the program, dubbed My Line, still need to be worked out, including price. He expects the cost of a test will probably be under $100.