Western is enlisting the services of the Collegiate Learning Assessment to assess whether or not students are gaining the important skills associated with a Liberal Arts education. In CLA’s test, students are graded on their ability to think critically, reason analytically, solve problems and write clearly and persuasively.
Test takers either complete a written “performance task” or answer a series of multiple-choice questions. Both are based off reading and analyzing a collection of documents related to real world scenarios that one might expect to encounter in a job post-college.
When freshman Morgan Bond took the test as part of her seminar in the fall, she had to answer a question about declining bird population in Yellowstone National Park.
“I remember that I used all the time it gave me,” Bond said in an email. “It had a lot of reading and writing. You used data to make an argument for or against something, developing a premises and conclusion.”
While receiving results from the exam is optional and Bond chose not to see hers, she still thought the test was important.
“It’s useful to other people, helps to creates change, generates statistics and that’s the real motivation in taking it; the fact that it helps others, not yourself,” Bond said in an email.
When Western conducted the assessment during the 2009-2010 school year, results showed that students’ skill improvement was on-par with what was expected, according to Steven VanderStaay, Western’s Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. When the university last conducted the assessment during the 2012-2013 school year, results showed that Western was in the top 37 percent of participating universities in terms of improvement in student’s measured skills over their time at college.
The approximately 90-minute assessment compares senior scores to freshman scores, along with the increase in scores compared to the expected increase — based off of the university’s incoming SAT scores — in order to measure whether universities are performing at, or above, expectations.
“CLA results above the mean are considered very difficult to achieve at state universities,” VanderStaay said in an email. “[The] results underscore our strengths and niche as a liberal arts institution.”
VanderStaay said Western’s success with the test is harder to attain because of the quarter system, which is a disadvantage because those students take less composition and rhetoric compared to schools on semester.
Caroline Aydelott, a freshman who also took the test as part of her seminar in the fall, saw the academic benefit in her participation.
“I would definitely recommend [the CLA] to a friend because, even though it is challenging, in the end it’s rewarding,” Aydelott said in an email. “I think it creates a good measurement of the knowledge of freshman versus seniors.”
From April 4-15, 100 seniors can earn a $30 discount on their cap and gown purchase by participating in the test. Interested seniors can take the test in Haggard Hall anytime within the testing windows, with the 100 students receiving the discounts being awarded on a first-come first-served basis — 85 of those openings remain as of Monday, April 4.