National assessment places FHSU students in top 10 percent for educational improvement

Affordable, yes. But more than that, Fort Hays State University offers a learning environment of close personal attention and high-level technological support that equips its students for success.

A recent assessment shows that from the freshman year to the senior year, FHSU students improve their writing skills at a rate higher than 90 percent of four-year institutions across the nation.

"This is value-added education in the fullest sense of what value-added means," Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, said at a news conference today on the university campus. "These assessment results are proof positive that the education provided by the FHSU faculty ranks at the top nationally for quality."

In the assessment, both freshmen and seniors were given tasks to measure their critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving and written communication skills. The results of the assessments were compared with the student's SAT scores, or in the case of FHSU, with ACT scores that were adjusted to comparable SAT scores.

"Our freshmen don't perform at the predicted level coming in, but our seniors perform at a level slightly higher than predicted going out," President Hammond explained.

The Collegiate Learning Assessment is conducted by the Council for Aid to Education, a national non-profit organization based in New York City. The CAE was established in 1952 to advance corporate support of education and to conduct policy research on higher education. Today, CAE also focuses on improving quality and access in higher education. Central to that focus, the Collegiate Learning Assessment is a national effort to assess the quality of undergraduate education by directly measuring student-learning outcomes.

"It's becoming a very important national exam for student writing, reasoning, thinking and argument creation," Dr. Larry Gould, FHSU provost, said during the news conference. "It's really becoming the premier national exam when it comes to these things. This is the best news we've received on institutional assessment in the six or seven years we've been doing it. What the FHSU faculty are doing in the classroom is working."

President Hammond and Provost Gould cited the 2006-2007 Institutional Report, in which CAE President Roger Benjamin wrote:

"The Collegiate Learning Assessment offers a new approach to assessment and improvement in higher education. Including Fort Hays State University and its students, over 300 institutions and 70,000 students have participated to date. … The CLA approach is designed primarily to assist faculty in improving teaching and learning, in particular as a means toward strengthening higher order skills. … Moreover, the CLA, based on scientifically developed scoring rubrics, permits and encourages institutions to compare their student learning results on the CLA with similarly situated institutions. The comparative signaling quality of the CLA is important because institutions need the ability to benchmark where they stand in comparison to other institutions. Otherwise, how do they know how well they are doing?"

And how is Fort Hays State University doing?

"Our estimate of your value-added placed you in decile group 10," Benjamin wrote in the report. "You performed better than 90 percent of four-year institutions."

Typically, entering freshmen at FHSU have an average ACT score that is slightly higher than the state and national average. The FHSU freshman average for 2007 is 21.3, compared to a 21.2 national average. The Kansas average was 21.8 for 2006, the most recent year available, and the FHSU average was the same as the Kansas average at 21.8 last year. For the higher-order learning skills section of the Collegiate Learning Assessment, the FHSU freshman average ACT, when converted to an SAT average, produced an "expected value" of 1,029. However, the "actual value" -- that is, the average score of FHSU freshmen on the assessment -- was only 972. That means FHSU freshmen were below their expected performance level for critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving and written communication skills.

The good news is that the disparity between expectations and performance has been erased by the time students are seniors at FHSU. Seniors had an expected value of 1,179, but their actual value was higher at 1,191. That translated to an added value of 219, which placed FHSU higher than 90 percent of the universities that were assessed.

While FHSU excelled in the all-important higher-order learning skills category, President Hammond noted that the Collegiate Learning Assessment was also helpful in pointing out categories that need improvement. For the three other areas tested, FHSU rated at expectations for its 4-year graduation rate, at expectations for its 6-year graduation rate, and below expectations for its first-year retention rate.

"In keeping with the purpose of the Collegiate Learning Assessment," President Hammond said, "we will work to improve our graduation rates and our first-year retention rate. The Collegiate Learning Assessment is a highly useful tool for measuring performance, and we're pleased to have this independent, empirical confirmation of our 'Affordable Success' promise."

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