In comment #9 at this post, Susan makes a kind of canonical case I've heard from lots of assessment people.
First, I should say that I agree with 95% of the intended answers to Susan's rhetorical questions. We should be much clearer about what we want our students to get out of their degrees, and we should put in the hard work of assessing the extent that we are successful.
But "assessment" in contemporary American bureaucracies almost always accomplishes exactly the opposite of the laudable goals that Susan and I share. And there are deep systematic reasons for this. Below, I will first explain three fallacies and then explain why everyone involved in assessment faces enormous pressure to go along with these fallacies. Along the way I hope to make it clear how this results in "assessment" making things demonstrably worse.**
Why do things like "professional development," "continuing education," "team-building," and (yes, this too) "assessment" always have to tend towards infantalizing the poor people subjected to them?
It's one thing to bureaucratically humiliate people by making them waste huge gobs of time. But this business of making them engage in ritualistic idiotic performances (which always involve to some extent enthusiastically presupposing that everyone is not in fact wasting time) is a much higher echelon of evil. How can the adult human beings in this video (courtesy Washington Post) have any self-respect?*
Mark my words. First they came for the high school teachers. . .**
[*To be fair, everyone involved in making the video and smuggling it to the Washington Post gained back their self-respect fourfold.
**If I was doing my normal thing and putting a rock video in the upper right hand corner, it would probably have been Jane's Addiction's "Idiots Rule." But I realized that it didn't scan because even if team-builder/professional development/assessment types are self-deluded enough to believe in the rightness of what they make the rest of us do, it takes quite a bit of intelligence to get people so complicit in their own immiseration.]
As the anthropologist James C. Scott has compellingly argued, it is a fool's game to attempt to learn about human nature from 'isolated' or 'primitive' tribes, since every human group about which we have any knowledge has existed in some relation to a broader network of other human groups, and usually of states and empires. In this respect the idea of homogeneous national cultures attaching stably to territories is not only an illusion, to the extent that the homogeneity was initially imposed by a concerted campaign, but also to the extent that influence and goods are always flowing in from outside, even if in certain places and times foreign faces and foreign tongues are an unfamiliar occurrence. James C. Scott, "Crops, Towns, Government," London Review of Books, Vol. 35, No. 22, 21 November, 2013, pgs. 13-15.
While I agree grosso modo with Scott's point about skepticism about direct and naive conclusions from existing foragers back to pre-State times, I think we can make some reasonable, modest, and always open to re-interpretation, guesses (or if you want, hypotheses) for pre-State forager bands. When we do that we have to remember that claims that inter-group war was the dominant form of inter-group relation are themselves prone to illegitimate analogies with nation-state behavior (that is, society as boot camp: impose a homogeneous culture to better ensure success in war through loyalty to the group, etc).