How to Redesign a College-Level or Developmental Math Course Using the Emporium Model
VIII. How to Compare Completion Rates
Completion rates refers to the percentages of students who began the course and finished with a grade of C or better. This measure (sometimes referred to as a pass rate) is generally accepted in higher education to indicate student “success” in a course.
Completion rates are not the same as measures of student learning. Assessment of learning refers to direct and comparable measures of student learning outcomes; completion rates refers to final grades.
Q: Why are grades not comparative measures of student learning?
A: Pass rates (grades of C or better) in traditional courses are not a reliable indicator of student learning and almost universally suffer from inconsistencies in grading practices. Students in traditional courses are assessed in a variety of ways that lead to overall grading differences. Inconsistencies include (1) curving, (2) failing to establish common standards for topic coverage (in some sections, entire topics are not covered, yet students pass), (3) having no clear guidelines regarding the award of partial credit, (4) allowing students to fail a required final exam yet still pass the course, and (5) failing to provide training and oversight of instructors, especially part-time ones.
NCAT has frequently observed the phenomenon of improved student learning outcomes supported by clear assessment data coupled with decreased completion rates. This phenomenon is typically due to prior grade inflation.
Q: Why would one want to look at comparative completion rates as well as comparative measures of student learning?
A: It is important for students to both master the content of the math course and complete the course. It is possible to demonstrate increased student learning through redesign (e.g., final exam means that increase from 50 percent to 70 percent), but if only 20 percent of students take the final exam, you have a problem, despite the demonstrated increase in student learning outcomes.