Seniors Score in 93rd Percentile on National Learning Assessment

Southern Virginia University seniors who participated in the Collegiate Learning Assessment this year performed better than 93 percent of seniors nationally who participated.

“The results indicate that our seniors outperform 13 out of 14 seniors in their overall ability to take complex materials, analyze them carefully and critically, propose solutions and communicate their findings clearly,” said Paul Edwards, Southern Virginia executive vice president and provost. “That is an amazing result.”

Southern Virginia University, along with 191 other institutions, administered the CLA to representative samples of their students during the 2008−2009 academic year. First-year students completed the assessment in the fall. The seniors took the test during spring semester. This year, 52 of the 74 seniors were considered native to Southern Virginia, meaning they started and were finishing their college education here.

The CLA measures an institution’s value-added to the intellectual development of its students in four higher-order skills: clear and cogent communication, critical thinking, analytic reasoning and problem solving. Southern Virginia uses the CLA to measure the effectiveness of its core curriculum, which focuses on clear writing, critical thinking and analytic reasoning.

For 2008–2009, first-year students performed higher than 68 percent of those at comparison institutions, while seniors performed better than 93 percent of schools throughout the nation. Also, when measuring overall performance improvement between first-year students and seniors, Southern Virginia was higher than 83 percent of other institutions that took the test.

“No other national assessment allows a college to assess, in a comparative and verifiable manner, the value that is being added to students through the educational process,“ Provost Edwards said. “Because we at Southern Virginia are focused on becoming better scholar-disciples, we needed something that would show us how well we are helping students achieve this goal.”

The blue diagonal line for freshmen and the maroon line for seniors show expected average scores. Schools whose students’ scores are above the relevant lines scored higher than expected, whereas scores below lines are lower than expected. The difference between the first-year and senior scores is the value added by the university experience.

The graph shows that Southern Virginia first-year students scored slightly higher than expected, and the seniors scored significantly higher than expected. The distance between the blue square and the black square illustrates the substantial value added to Southern Virginia students’ abilities during their education here.

In conducting the CLA, administrators randomly select half of the students for the performance task while the other half completes the analytic writing task. These tasks measure the students’ abilities to articulate complex ideas, examine claims and evidence, support ideas with relevant reasons and examples, sustain a coherent discussion and use standard written English.

The performance task requires students to, among other things, analyze complex, realistic scenarios and then make logical and reasonable inferences from the evidence provided. The analytic writing task requires students to make an argument by writing a persuasive, analytic essay with a clear thesis or position and support that position throughout the essay. The “critique an argument” component asks students to identify and explain logical flaws or fallacies in certain arguments and explain how they affect the concluding argument.

“The CLA is important to students individually and collectively,” Provost Edwards stated. “The faculty at Southern Virginia is charged with providing the finest undergraduate education available in the letters, arts and sciences. We know we are meeting that charge because our core curriculum is producing excellent results in national testing.”