Transforming Assessment for Community Colleges
The main campus of Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) is located in Largo, Maryland just south of Washington, DC. Since 1958, PGCC has provided students with an engaging, learning-centered environment focused on transforming the lives of students by providing challenging and innovative academic programs designed to meet their educational needs. Each year over 42,000 students come to PGCC for a range of programs, certifications, and personal enrichment opportunities. PGCC is singularly focused on students’ success and this led the college to implement a plan to improve the institutional ability to measure, monitor, and improve student learning across the curriculum.
A Case Study by W. Allen Richman, Ph.D., Director of Outcomes Assessment & Institutional Effectiveness, Prince George’s Community College
IMPROVING RETENTION & GRADUATION
A major focus of recent efforts has been the retention and graduation of the 21,000 students who attend PGCC each year. Some preliminary analyses conducted in 2010 demonstrated that performing well in a ”101“ course did not inherently translate into expected levels of performance in a ”102“ course. Thus began a two-year curriculum mapping process that included reviewing all courses in each program, aligning learning outcomes, and identifying a preferred sequence of courses. The purpose of this exercise was to ensure an appropriate scaffold for students’ learning and to “guarantee” that students moving to the next related course have the requisite knowledge and skills to be successful.
As part of this mapping process course objectives were reviewed with the purpose of ensuring tight alignment of learning across the curriculum. As a final step in the process these course objectives were aligned with program objectives and/or general education (also institutional) objectives. As a result, multiple adjustments were made to the curriculum of many programs and certificates so that students will now experience a curriculum which is tightly connected and will facilitate the greatest likelihood of student success.
Through this rigorous review and interconnection of learning outcomes, the curriculum was appropriately prepared for a fundamentally different methodology of assessment. The assessment plan at PGCC is based on directly measuring students’ achievement of outcomes through assignments embedded in courses, and using the data generated from these assignments to evaluate learning outcome performance at the course, program, and institutional level (general education learning outcomes). The only way this fundamentally different assessment plan could be brought to fruition is through the use of technology to handle the scale of this type of assessment process.
MANAGING THE CONNECTIONS WITH CAMPUSWIDE
In 2011, PGCC purchased CampusWide to handle the connections from the rubric to the course outcomes and from the course outcomes to both general education outcomes and/or program outcomes. The first step in implementing the new assessment plan occurred in the spring of 2011. Twelve courses were assessed using rubrics developed by faculty and then input into Tk20. Every section of each of the twelve courses had an embedded assignment which was administered and graded. The end result yielded approximately 2,500 scored rubrics for the spring 2011 semester.
Each rubric was used to generate a score/grade for the student by the faculty. As faculty selected the appropriate points for each discrete knowledge or skill, they were also selecting one of five levels of performance (e.g., average, good, excellent). The students’ level of performance represents the students’ performance on a discrete skill or demonstration of specific content knowledge. Each of these measures within the rubric is then linked in the system to a specific course learning outcome. In turn, these course learning outcomes are connected to program and general education learning outcomes. By aggregating the performance of students across courses, but within the same domain (e.g., writing), the custom reports provided by Tk20 Yield summary data on our students’ performance not only on courses, but also on the general education learning outcomes.
As the sample of data grows and more courses are added into the aggregates, all learning outcomes at the program and general education/institutional level will be able to be measured. In addition, the data produced for program and general education learning outcomes are obtained from large samples of students across multiple types of measures (e.g., across multiple courses). This provides a much more robust measure of our students’ learning than previous methodologies which focused on measuring small samples of students using separate measurement instruments for course, program, and general education.
CONNECTING COURSE, PROGRAM & GEN ED LEARNING OUTCOMES INTO A SINGULAR PROCESS
Fall of 2012 will mark the full implementation of the assessment process in which over 30 courses are scheduled for assessment using embedded assessments. In addition, departments will be closing the loop by examining the data collected in spring 2012 to create plans for improvement which will be implemented in spring 2013.
The wealth of data yielded by this process and richness of examining performance across courses is truly transformative. Rather than treating course, program, and general education learning outcomes as separate, by assessing them through different assessment procedures, the PGCC assessment process connects all three into a singular process. Also, because faculty can easily use Tk20 to simultaneously grade and assess students’ performance levels, the assessment process adds only a small amount of additional work for faculty beyond their typical grading practices. Through a careful and rigorous review of the curriculum, and an innovative assessment plan, Prince George’s Community College has transformed the way we assess our students.