To better understand how Cal Poly students learn, we compare the results from our internal assessment projects, particularly our Core Competency Assessment, with nationwide exams and surveys, such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). These surveys are administered once every three years and are given to first-year and senior-level students.
By including external assessments as part of our overall plan, we can see how our students are comparing with university students across the country. The resulting comparison ultimately shows the value added by a Cal Poly education.
The CLA+ is a direct measure¹ of critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and written communication skills using a performance-based assessment. The principal goal of is to provide an objective assessment of how students develop these skills throughout their career at Cal Poly; as such, this exam is given to first-year and senior-level students.
Cal Poly is among hundreds of institutions that use the CLA+ to measure the value the institution contributes to student learning, and our students have scored among the highest of all those participating.
For more information, visit our CLA+ homepage, which includes information for students as well as the most recent results.
National Survey of Student Engagement
One of the key indirect measures² that Cal Poly uses is the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE — pronounced "Nessie"). This survey asks students to indicate how frequently they have access to various resources and experiences — both in and out of the classroom. Here are some of the questions that students are asked:
- "During the current school year, how often have you included diverse perspectives (political, religious, racial/ethnic, gender, etc.) in course discussions or assignments?"
- "How much does your institute emphasize spending significant amounts of time studying and on academic work?"
- "How often does your campus emphasize providing support for your overall well-being (recreation, health care, counseling, etc.)?"
- "How much has your experience at this institution contributed to your knowledge, skills, and personal development?"
- "If you could start over again, would you go to the same institution (emphasis theirs) you are now attending?"
To create a more complete picture of student learning, Cal Poly compares NSSE results with the direct assessments that take place at the program or university level; if our students' scores are low on the direct assessments — namely, the CLA+, university-level assessment, or program-level assessment — and NSSE shows that the students' self-report a low engagement with that skill, then we can we can reevaluate our assessment efforts.
¹ A "direct measure" is one that requires students to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency for a skill or particular learning outcome.
² An "indirect measure" is one that asks students to self-report either (1) how well they they they have mastered a skill or (2) how often they engage in a particular learning opportunity.