Part 2: Leaders in Data-Informed Policies and Programs

By Sonya Stinson

Bakersfield College recently earned Achieving the Dream’s 2015 Leader College distinction. Learn how it moved the needle on student success with data.

This is the second article in a two-part series on Achieving the Dream’s 2015 Leader Colleges. These colleges have used data to inform policy and practice to encourage student success at community colleges across the country. View the complete list of this year’s Leader Colleges.

A program designed to take a more accurate measure of students’ college readiness helped Bakersfield College (BC) win recognition from Achieving the Dream (ATD) as a 2015 Leader College. BC was one of 19 community colleges to earn the distinction, announced in September.

California community colleges are required to use multiple measures, rather than a single standardized test, to determine the placement of incoming students. After joining the ATD network in 2013, college administrators began reviewing BC policies and practices, with guidance from ATD coaches. The result was a pilot program that uses high school GPAs and transcripts to place new students in math and English courses.

“We look at the type of courses they took and the sequence of courses,” says Emmanuel Mourtzanos, BC’s dean of instruction, who notes that these details paint a more accurate picture of a student’s college readiness than GPA alone. “For example, students could take a series of easy and elective courses that don’t really increase the rigor of their academic experience in high school but would greatly inflate their GPA. So rather than just take the GPA at face value, we actually manually reviewed their high school transcripts.”

The change did more than just identify underprepared students. When the more comprehensive assessment system was implemented, many students ended up placing higher than they would have using the placement test alone, Mourtzanos says. In the past, those students probably would have been assigned to remedial courses, delaying completion by at least a semester or two. Revising the placement criteria has put many students on a shorter path to graduation.

“The attempt was to shorten the journey for them without shortchanging their experience,” Mourtzanos says. “We were able to find great success with that strategy.”

Breaking down the data

The college relied on data and analyses from the California community college system’s Cal-PASS Plus, which houses data on pre-K through college students. A report in the June 2015 newsletter of Cal-PASS Plus spotlighted the success of the reforms at BC.

“From the initial cohort of 454 low-income students, 361 were moved up at least one course in the Basic Skills sequence in English, math or both,” the report says.

Nearly 200 additional students who needed remedial work were placed into accelerated or compressed courses.

“These placements, combined with several years of Basic Skills curriculum revisions, saved BC students in the cohort 824 semesters of student work,” the Cal-PASS Plus report notes.

Mentoring is part of the mix

Mentors are paired with the pilot program’s participating students to help them reach their academic goals. Students who are struggling get referrals to academic support services on campus. Mentors can even answer questions about financial aid and help students stay on top of deadlines, such as the last day to drop a course before it counts as a withdrawal/failure.

Mourtzanos says students in the Multiple Measures Project cohort had a higher course pass rate than students not in a project cohort, even when they were placed in more rigorous classes.

“Through the mentorship program we were able to provide not only a higher challenge, which we actually thought was an appropriate challenge for them based on their high school records,” Mourtzanos says, “but we also increased the support that we offered our students. And the vast majority of them have done very well in that environment.”

BC faculty and administrators are now looking at how to expand the Multiple Measures program.

“Rather than taking on a new initiative,” he says, “our emphasis is on scaling now: How can we sustain this practice on the larger scale and try to reach more students? The ultimate ideal would be to offer the service to all incoming students.”

Read the first part of this series here.

Sonya Stinson

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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