One of the hot areas in education these days is assessment. In higher education, student satisfaction is being assessed via surveys at colleges across the country. At my school the most recent satisfaction survey measured student satisfaction in 32 areas. Statistical analyses were done in every possible way, and the results were published in a 21-page Assessment Report covering the last five years. Students were asked to evaluate their satisfaction in areas like “critical thinking and problem solving,” and “effective communication and team work.”

There are several built-in biases in this type of assessment process. First of all, can students be unbiased when the assessment involves them? They can certainly state their satisfaction with their communication skills or problem-solving skills, but does that mean that they are good at communicating or problem solving? They may not be able to put coherent sentences together but still be satisfied.

The second bias is the measure of student satisfaction in areas like “the quality of instruction” and “breadth of the curriculum.” Student satisfaction with these things does not reflect quality in these areas. Faculty and administrators can’t even agree on what quality is in these areas.

The bottom line is that satisfaction, be it students' or anyone else, comes from getting what you want – not what you need. You may obtain the most satisfaction from eating ice cream when vegetables are what you really need. Attempting to maximize student satisfaction is certainly a worthwhile objective, but don't confuse it with quality – unless you are in the entertainment industry.

Surveys show that student satisfaction is highest in courses where grade inflation is highest, so perhaps I should give all my students "A's" in order to maximize their satisfaction.