A New Assessment for All Community College Students

South Representative, Common Assessment Initiative Steering Committee Vice Chair

Students come to California community colleges with various backgrounds. Some come straight from high school, while others may have a long gap in their education. Some students take many honors and advanced placement courses in high school, while for others basic English or math might be more challenging. No matter what background a student has, he or she is put through an assessment process upon enrolling at a community college campus. This local process usually involves an assessment test and other measures that the college uses to determine the most appropriate math and English courses for a particular student. If that student decides to go to a different college, he or she often has to go through the assessment and placement process again because colleges have developed unique assessment processes that do not always transfer from one campus to another.

A common question raised in the California Community College (CCC) System for the past several years is whether we could develop a way for students’ assessments to move with them from one campus to another. To assist students when they move among campuses, the 2011 CCC Student Success Task Force, in Recommendation 2.1, stated, “Community colleges will develop and implement a common centralized assessment for English reading and writing, mathematics, and ESL.” The Common Assessment Initiative (CAI) was established to create this common assessment system for all community colleges. The assessment will include an adaptive test in English, ESL, and mathematics and a set of multiple measures validated by the Chancellor’s Office that colleges can use to place students. The CAI is intended to create a common assessment system, not a system for common placement. The determination of cut scores and placement of students into courses is a local decision.

No matter how well any current local assessment process is working, all colleges need to be aware of developments regarding the common assessment. The common assessment will give students the opportunity to move their assessment profile from one campus to another, but that ease of movement is only possible if all of the colleges are using the new system. SB1456 requires colleges to use the common assessment or lose their Student Success and Support Program (SSSP) funding. Even if a college believes that its current assessment process is effective, it is unlikely they would choose to forfeit these funds. Since every college will be using the new assessment, this common system must give colleges all of the information they need to properly assess and place students.

The CAI is directed by a steering committee that consists of representatives from the ASCCC, the RP Group, the Chancellor’s Office, Trustees, the Chief Executive Officers, the Chief Instructional Officers, the Chief Student Services Officers, the Chief Technology Officers, CalPass Plus, and the Student Senate for California Community Colleges. The steering committee oversees the entire project, including workgroups that are considering various content areas (English, ESL, and mathematics), multiple measures, the test development process, the vendor selection, and professional development. Each of the workgroups is assigned a specific aspect of the assessment instrument or process, and the steering committee is tasked with bringing all of those pieces together.

The first meeting of the steering committee was in March, and much has happened in the six months since that meeting. Some of the accomplishments are as follows:

  • The colleges responsible for piloting the assessment have been selected. These colleges will be responsible for testing the new assessment technology and helping in the validation of the items included in the assessment. The pilot colleges are
    • Bakersfield College
    • Butte College
    • Chaffey College
    • DeAnza College
    • Delta College
    • Diablo Valley College
    • Fresno City College
    • Rio Hondo College
    • Sacramento City College
    • Saddleback College
    • Santa Monica College
    • West Los Angeles College
  • A Request for Information (RFI) was distributed to vendors to determine what would be possible for the assessment test. This RFI sought to discover innovations that were now possible since the last RFI for an assessment system in 2009. Some of the possible innovations include the ability to set different starting points based on student preparation, incorporating pre-tests that could direct students to tutorials, the ability for students to show their work in mathematical calculations, and tutorials inside of the test to remind students of concepts they might have forgotten. These innovations might not all be part of the common assessment, but they offer an idea of what might be possible as the system is being developed.
  • Workgroups for English, ESL, and mathematics met over the summer to develop the assessment competencies that will be incorporated into the Request for Proposals (RFP). These competencies are designed to look at a continuum of skills in math, English, and ESL. The competencies are based on the CB21 rubrics, the ESL test specifications, common core standards, and the smarter balanced assessments. The competencies will be vetted from October 6 through November 15.
  • A Request for Proposals (RFP) will be distributed to vendors around December 1.  A RFP and Vendor Selection workgroup has been created to develop the RFP using the competencies developed by the workgroups and to select the vendor or vendors for the assessment system. This group will include members of the CAI steering committee, the pilot colleges, and the CAI workgroups.
  • Pilot colleges will begin testing pieces of the assessment in Fall 2015.
  • The Common Assessment will be available to colleges beginning in Spring 2016 for placement of students for Fall 2016.

Local senate leaders should stay involved and informed about the Common Assessment Initiative. To do so, any interested individual can go to asccc.org and sign up for the ASCCC’s discipline listservs.  Subscribing to the listservs is the best way to make sure one is receiving important emails. Faculty who wish to be considered for involvement in future aspects of the CAI can also submit an application to serve on the ASCCC website. Additional information about common assessment can be found at http://cccassess.org. Common assessment will change many things for our students and our colleges, and faculty throughout the state need to work together to make the system as comprehensive as possible.