What You Need to Know About the Common Assessment

Area D Representative, Vice Chair of the Common Assessment Steering Committee

As we enter 2016, the new common assessment system is only one year away from being used to place community college students. Whenever something that will affect every college is being developed, rumors will abound regarding how everything is going to change. To ensure that colleges are ready for the common assessment, this article provides answers to some of the most common questions. 

Are colleges required to use the common assessment test? If your college uses an assessment test and your college wants to continue to receive SSSP funds, then the assessment test used must be the common test once it is made available. The Student Success Act (SB1456, Lowenthal) includes the following:

The requirement that any district or college receiving funding pursuant to this section agree to implement this article, implement the board of governors’ system of common assessment, if using an assessment instrument for placement, and implement the board of governors’ accountability scorecard, pursuant to Section 84754.5, when established during the period in which it receives that funding.

Colleges are permitted to use other measures for placement and continue to receive funding, but an assessment test other than common test would not be acceptable.

Our college likes our current assessment test; can we continue to use it? A college’s existing assessment test possibly could be used in conjunction with the common test as a multiple measure, but it cannot replace the common test without loss of SSSP funding.

Will a common test mandate common placement? Placement decisions will continue to be made locally. The ASCCC’s adopted position on placement of students comes from resolution 13.03 F11 that included the following:

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges support the establishment of a centralized standard assessment as an option provided there is a local determination of cut scores for placement and encourage local academic senates to support selection of this assessment option for local use.

Additionally, the new common test will not produce a single score; it will produce a competency map for each student that will be used to determine placement. The advantage of this system is that more information about a student’s skills will be available to faculty. This new information will also come with the need to develop new placement models at each campus. Since each campus has unique curriculum, the system cannot feasibly have a single placement model for all colleges.

Will the common assessment include a writing sample? Resolution 18.01 F2014 included the following statements:

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges recommend that the Common Assessment Initiative include writing samples as a required component of the common assessment and that the writing samples are scored by human readers whose participation will inform assessment procedures that promote the growth of students across the composition sequence; and

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges urge the Common Assessment Initiative steering committee to ensure that English and ESL instructors with knowledge and experience as to how integrated assessment programs inform curriculum and pedagogy participate in the design and evaluation of writing samples to ensure that the assessment test is grounded in the latest research on language learning and assessment practices.

Since the passage of this resolution, the Common Assessment Initiative Steering Committee has been committed to including a required writing sample for both English and ESL students. The student’s writing sample will be provided to colleges along with a machine generated score. The initiative has not yet purchased a machine scoring system, but the decision was made that one needs to be available for colleges that do not have the resources for human scoring. All colleges wishing to have the writing sample scored by hand will be able to do so, but those scores will not move with the student to other colleges.

What do faculty need to do to prepare for the common assessment? The change from a single score to a skills profile means that each college will need to develop new placement models for the common assessment. To build these models, faculty should review the assessment competency maps available at cccassess.org and map the skills being measured to existing curriculum. As pilot colleges begin using the common assessment, professional development will be offered to help faculty with creating placement models. Additionally, basic skills descriptors are currently being developed by C-ID, and those descriptors will also be aligned to the competency maps to provide colleges with examples. Even though C-ID has reciprocity requirements, any alignment to the competency maps will only be provided as an example and colleges are not required to use them.

Will every college begin using the common assessment at the same time? With 113 colleges, it is impossible to make this new system available to everyone at the same time. The Chancellor’s Office is developing a schedule for when the common assessment will be made available to each college. A college will be granted access to the system one semester prior to usage to set up the technology and make certain that everyone on campus is properly trained to use the new system.

Will the common assessment system include any multiple measures? The common assessment system will include some additional multiple measures that colleges may choose to use. The Common Assessment Initiative is currently piloting multiple measures, including the use of high school GPA and non-cognitive measures through the Multiple Measures Assessment Project. Colleges will not be required to use any of the multiple measures included in the system, but they are required to use multiple measures when placing students.

Will the common assessment change course offerings? If more students are placed into higher level courses, colleges may need to change their course schedules. Additionally, colleges may choose to develop new curriculum to take advantage of the diagnostic data provided by the common assessment.

While this list does not exhaust all possible questions, it should give faculty and colleges an idea of what is coming. Colleges should begin planning, if they have not already done so, for the new assessment system. Each college should consider an implementation team that includes discipline faculty from math, reading, English, and ESL, discipline faculty with math or English prerequisites, counselors, assessment center staff, and IT staff. Local academic senates should take the lead in bringing faculty together to discuss curriculum alignment and create local placement models. The involvement of the senate will help prevent forming silos around assessment and will ensure that the entire campus community is involved in implementation.

As the work of the Common Assessment Initiative continues, professional development opportunities will be offered to answer questions and provide training. Three one-day trainings will be held during the spring semester, and additional trainings will be offered until the common assessment has been implemented at all colleges. Additional information about the common assessment can be found at cccassess.org.

The common assessment will affect every student coming into the community college system, but the system can only be successful with a strong collaboration among faculty, staff, and administrators at each college. This initiative offers an incredible opportunity for change and to help our students achieve their goals.