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The Online Common Assessment Project, currently known as CCCAssess, is a new statewide effort to address the concept of centralized assessment for the California Community Colleges (CCC) system.

The California Community Colleges system serves 2.8 million students annually at its 110 campuses. It is tasked with accurately assessing students for placement into English, Mathematics and English as a Second Language courses.

Currently, all testing, placement and assessment practices are driven locally at the college and district level, and this practice has resulted in little commonality across the system. Students are faced with different tests, different cut scores and retesting due to the non-portability of test scores.

In addition, individual campuses do not achieve any economy of scale for the purchase of testing instruments. The lack of a central repository prevents the collection of testing instruments and hinders the development of assessment and placement research algorithms to improve the predictability of student success.

Bonnie Edwards, project lead, said, “The Online Common Assessment Project is a collaborative effort with representatives from across the system. It comprises two groups: one charged with the selection of testing instruments and the other charged with an advisory role, oversight, and technical implementation of the project. Technology is the facilitator of this effort and the whole system has a voice. The response to the project has been positive, and everyone sees it’s potential and wants to do it right.”

The final centralized assessment model aims to achieve the following goals:

  • Create a centralized assessment application to host the common assessment instruments and deliver them to the students via the Web.
  • Create a centralized data warehouse to store CCC assessment test scores with the possibility of capturing testing instruments from outside the California Community Colleges for multiple measure placements.
  • Selection of a common assessment test for each curricular area: English, Math and English as a Second Language (ESL).
  • Negotiate a price break by purchasing a fixed number of testing instruments for each curricular area.
  • College participation would be optional and each college could still elect to use locally purchased testing instruments instead of the common assessments selected by the project.
  • Examination scores will be delivered to the systems of local colleges in real-time.
  • Counselors would have access to the secure, Web-accessible central repository to call up placement data.
  • Allow prospective students to take a preliminary test and receive feedback prior to taking the actual test.

With grant funding from the Gates and Hewlett foundations awarded to the Butte College Foundation, the Online Common Assessment Project will complete the feasibility study and pilot tests for a centralized assessment model. The two-year pilot will be an iterative process that will explore the technical feasibility and challenges associated with the implemention of a statewide system. The pilot will work with key representatives from California Community Colleges groups such as Matriculation and Assessment, Academic Senate, Research and Planning, and Instruction, as well as California State University, to select a common assessment instrument for the curricular areas of Math, English and ESL. In addition, representatives from California Community Colleges Information Technology, the state Legislative Analyst's Office and Department of Finance will be an integral part of the collaboration effort.

The selection of a single testing instrument requires a thorough examination of existing tests and research to arrive at a single instrument for each curricular area for the entire California Community Colleges system. This is no small feat, yet it is necessary and critical to the concept of centralized assessment.

“Representing a united California Community Colleges system, the Online Common Assessment Project can negotiate price breaks with the assessment testing companies, streamline the assessment experience for students and demonstrate our desire to address legislative concerns in regards to the assessment process,” Edwards said.

According to Edwards, one clarification should be made: the Online Common Assessment Project is not the Early Assessment Program (EAP). EAP is an “early-warning” test administered to high school students in their junior year to let them know if they are prepared to pass college assessment tests. The Online Common Assessment tool administers the actual assessment tests that colleges use to place students into courses.

After the pilot phase, there are plans for EAP information, along with other non-CCC information, to be able to integrate with the Online Common Assessment application. According to Edwards, the visionary folks around this project see the potential for a “one-stop-shop” for student assessment and placement services that can be pulled together through the Service Oriented Architecture initiative.

The next step for the pilot project will be to solidify team membership and form advisory committees for instrument selection, technical planning and oversight.

“It’s exciting to be a part of the Online Common Assessment project, a project that will allow us to rethink assessment and placement and how we collect relevant information from multiple data points. Ultimately this project will benefit the entire California Community Colleges system,” Edwards said. <>

Sandoval Chagoya is a CCC Technology Center project manager
and TechEDge managing editor.