Case Study: Evaluating General Education Programs in South Dakota

The System: South Dakota Board of Regents
The Challenge:   To analyze and improve the general education programs at South Dakota's six public universities
The Solution: CAAP testing for all students after completing 48 credit hours as part of a comprehensive assessment program
The Results: Curriculum review and changes; a greater ability to address individual student needs

The South Dakota Board of Regents oversees the six public universities in the state. The board is responsible for ensuring that students who graduate from each of the universities receive a quality education.

In 1998, the regents and universities decided they needed to assess the quality and standards of the general education program, as well as identify a means to provide students with information about their personal progress at the universities. The regents also needed a way to compare the performance of students in South Dakota to students on a national level.

The Board of Regents chose to test students after they complete 48 credit hours with four of the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP) tests—Writing Skills, Math, Reading and Science.

The regents produce a report each term and an annual report, "The CAAP Gains Report," that show how each university fares on each subject tested. These accountability reports are made public and go to the governor and the legislature.

"Policymakers want to know that we are making efficient use of the state resources," said Lesta Turchen, senior administrator and chief academic officer for the South Dakota Board of Regents. "Before CAAP, we really did not have the mechanism, other than anecdotes, to show that our universities have increased the knowledge of students. But if you want to use data-driven decision making, anecdotes just don't do it."

After one university fell below the national mean in English five out of six years, that university implemented an additional writing requirement for all of its students. Another university has placed a new focus on math after receiving lower than expected scores in that subject.

The system has also implemented a placement process using scores from the ACT or the COMPASS placement tests.

Faculty told the Regents that "we can't wait until students sit for the CAAP test to deal with students who need remediation," Turchen said. "So they recommended and we have adopted a system-wide placement process in English and math."

Identifying students who need assistance and providing students with a way of monitoring their personal progress is what Turchen calls CAAP's biggest success.

"The CAAP exam has become a primary tool for working with individual students to improve their skill levels so that they can be successful in upper-division courses in their majors," she said. "If you can better prepare students to be successful in their coursework, the students themselves are more likely to reach their personal goals."

The Board of Regents also intends to use the CAAP tests for students enrolled in its Electronic University Consortium.

"Our regional accrediting agency certainly scrutinizes how you establish student learning outcomes for general education for distance students," Turchen said. "The CAAP tests allow us to substantiate that the education those distance students receive is equivalent to the education that the student would receive in a face-to-face situation."

"The state and the regents have used the CAAP gains reports to provide incentive funding for the institutions. It is a pat on the back, a reward for providing your students with an education that resulted in expected and higher than expected gains."

– Lesta Turchen, Senior Administrator and Chief Academic Officer,
    South Dakota Board of Regents