HLC Self Study
Chapter 6 Graphic

Curriculum-Integrated Assessment

In previous years, faculty used the College Basic Academic Subjects Examination (CBASE) to assess general education learning objectives/outcomes. CBASE was not used after spring 2010, because in fall 2010, SAAC shifted focus and endorsed a curriculum-integrated assessment approach to assessing the general education abilities. Curriculum-integrated assessment focuses on assessing general education abilities within the standard curricula of diverse courses taught throughout the College, while using a shared assessment instrument such as a rubric or collective format (i.e. common questions on exams). This is in contrast to how assessment was conducted using CBASE, which is a nationally standardized test. The primary reason for the shift towards curriculum-integrated assessment was that after using CBASE for multiple semesters, SAAC identified many shortcomings and challenges with the instrument. One problem was the challenge in recruiting faculty members to volunteer a 50-minute portion of a class period to administer an external instrument that did not have direct relevance to the subject of the course being taught. Many faculty were reluctant to give up precious class time for what they viewed as something entirely outside the scope of the course. An additional challenge was the lack of incentives for students to perform well. In the vast majority of classes, student results were not incorporated into course grades because faculty members were hesitant to include an assignment that was outside of the District’s course competencies. As a result, many students declined to participate since they saw no consequence for not taking the test. It was also hypothesized that some students gave a lackluster performance since the outcome of the assessment was not tied directly to their grade.

As a result, the College’s curriculum-integrated assessment approach was designed to overcome the shortcomings of using a standard national assessment unrelated to the course in which it was administered. The curriculum-integrated approach values assessing general education abilities within the context of an individual course.  For example, when CBASE was administered for numeracy and composition/writing (fall 2009 and spring 2010), no students scored within the top range for composition/writing. This led to the development of a Writing Across the Curriculum Rubric, which all faculty members are now encouraged to use in their courses.  In fall 2010, communication was assessed across the College by seeking faculty volunteers who utilized formal presentations in their classes and therefore, identify communication as general education ability addressed in their course. Participating faculty were issued a common communication rubric so that elements of good communication abilities across disciplines could be captured, aggregated and assessed at the general education program and college levels. As previously mentioned, the communication rubric is used during the annual Student Conference as a form of institution-wide assessment. Information literacy was assessed using a curriculum-integrated approach in spring 2011. All instructors who included assignments that required students to perform research and create a thesis statement were asked to send student-created bibliographies and thesis statements to the Library’s representative on the Student Academic Achievement Committee for analysis.

The Division of Student Services at Estrella Mountain has also integrated the general education abilities into student learning outcomes for all departments and programs. There are many examples of this integration. For example, student learning outcomes in the area of advising direcly support the general education ability of information literacy. After meeting with an advisor, a student is expected to be able to identify the specific courses that meet her/his degree requirements. Another example includes, that upon completion of a résumé workshop through the Career and Transfer Center, a student will demonstrate the ability to construct a well-written résumé. Directly linked to the general education ability of communication and composition, the assessment method is a résumé rubric used by the center staff.


Specific occupational programs at Estrella Mountain Community College require certifications and external licensing by outside agencies. Certifications and licensing serve as direct evidence of the achievement of learning outcomes. Estrella Mountain’s nursing program is accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. One of eight programs in the District, Estrella Mountain shares common curricula, syllabi and outcome measures. All program learning outcomes are measured using the Health Education Systems, Incorporated (HESI) exam, a nationally normalized test. The HESI exam provides each nursing program cohort the ability to measure student success at the end of the block (semester), as well as student readiness for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) exam taken at the end of the program.

The average end of program HESI exam score at Estrella Mountain is 847 (summer 2008 – spring 2011).  The national average end of program score is 830 for the same timeframe.  According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), the year-to-date national pass rate for associate degree first-time testers is 88 percent (NCSBN, 2011).  Estrella Mountain’s first-time pass rates for the NCLEX-RN have remained above the national rate with a total first time pass rate of 89 percent for all graduates who have tested from 2007 through 2011. Nursing faculty members continuously monitor outcomes and trends according to the Estrella Mountain Systematic Plan of Evaluation guidelines


Modeling in physics has been in use since Estrella Mountain hired its first residential faculty member. Physics faculty members use the Force Concept Inventory as one way to see the effectiveness of the curriculum and compare it to national research. In utilizing modeling, physics classes at the College are considered “reformed”, which is different from the “traditional” Physics classes that are lecture-based. According to a published paper by Hake (1998) entitled, Interactive-engagement vs. traditional methods: A six thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses, the national average gain for a traditional class is 0.24, and the national average gain for a reformed class is 0.42. During the past 10 years, the Estrella Mountain class average gain has been 0.72. Gain is defined here in terms of how much a student gained back versus how much they could have gained back. According to Hake (1998), this gain goes between 0 and 1, with a 1 indicating that students learned all the information they missed on the pre-test. Published research since 1998 has continued to corroborate the study cited in Hake’s article.

English 101

During fall 2009, English faculty noticed that their College Basic Academic Subjects Examination results did not yield the outcomes they had hoped. As a result, they developed a pilot for a common assignment for English 101 students. They used the Estrella Mountain Community College Writing Rubric, focusing on the assessment of five of the eight criteria. Faculty then held a norming session to evaluate the papers and determined that support was the lowest of the five criteria assessed.  Faculty repeated the procedure with the participation of all residential faculty teaching ENG101. Together they surveyed best practices and developed material to help students generate the type of details to use as support in their papers. Faculty included this material with the writing prompt and gave points to students for their work in this area. Faculty received positive feedback from students as the papers were being written.  The subsequent assessment reflected an improvement in overall scores. Consequently, for the fall 2010 semester, English faculty implemented another common assignment for all ENG101 classes to help with students’ organization, one of the criteria that the Estrella Mountain Writing Rubric assesses. The strengths of this project include the opportunity for colleagues to discuss what they value in writing and why, getting a chance to focus on one issue at a time and share approaches.

Figure 45


Traditionally successful completion rates for mathematics courses at Estrella Mountain have been low. As a result, the College is continually exploring new ways to improve student success, one of which is the accuracy of the placement examination. Until fall 2009, the Institution had been using Accuplacer and ASSET entrance examinations to place students in mathematics courses at the College. Data since 2002 show that for the first math class taken by students, there have been fluctuations in successful completion. For high school students graduating in 2008, the rate was 74 percent for college algebra and intermediate algebra. For pre-intermediate algebra, the rate was 62 percent. 

Figure 46 shows a comparison of successful math completion rates for fall 2008 versus fall 2010, using Accuplacer or Asset as a placement exam.  The College found that more than 1 in 5 students took the same math course two or more times.

Figure 46


During spring 2009, math faculty chose to participate in a District-wide pilot using ALEKS as a placement exam. The College began piloting this exam in November 2009. 

The following results were obtained for students taking math in fall 2010:

  • Of those taking ASSET/Accuplacer, 20 percent placed in MAT082 and 33 percent placed in MAT091
  • Of those taking ALEKS, 73 percent placed in MAT082 and 15 percent placed in MAT091
Figure 47

The placement results for spring 2011 were similar to those in spring 2010:

  • Of those taking ASSET/Accuplacer, 29 percent placed in MAT082 and 42 percent placed in MAT091
  • Of those taking ALEKS, 78 percent placed in MAT082 and 12 percent placed in MAT091

Math faculty are hopeful that since ALEKS is placing students at a lower level, students will gain a better foundation by completing the appropriate course work before progressing to college-level courses and thus, be successful. Data are still being gathered to assess the impact this change has made; however, Figure 47 shows early results from fall 2010 data, indicating a higher percent successful completion for developmental math courses (MAT082–MAT121).