HOW TO REDESIGN A COLLEGE COURSE USING NCAT'S METHODOLOGY
VIII. How to Compare Completion Rates
Completion rates refers to the percentages of students who began the course and finished with grades of C or better. This measure—sometimes referred to as pass rates—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: How do we compare completion rates?
A: During both the pilot and full implementation terms (and in subsequent terms as well), the team should collect final grades for students in both the traditional and redesigned versions of the course utilizing NCAT’s Completion Form (see Appendix B). All students who were enrolled in the course as of the official “census” date should be counted, including drops, withdrawals, incompletes and failures. Calculate the percentage of students earning a grade of C or better in both formats and compare the results.
Q: Why are grades not comparative measures of student learning?
A: Pass rates (grades of C or better) in traditional courses are not reliable indicators 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 that students both master the content of the 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, there’s a problem despite the demonstrated increase in student learning outcomes.