Mustang Daily Staff Report
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For students at Cal Poly, an old assessment might now be used as a new approach to get ahead in the job market.

More than 200 American colleges, including Cal Poly, offer the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) — an exam similar to the SAT — to college seniors. At Cal Poly, as with the other colleges, the assessment has been used for a much different reason.

The CLA, which was created by the non-profit Council for Aid to Education, is a web-administered assessment designed to assess critical thinking, problem solving, written communication and analytic reasoning.

All CSU campuses are required to use the assessment as a way to measure the institution as a whole — demonstrating the entire school’s contribution to learning. Cal Poly administers the test to a minimum of 100 freshmen as a ‘baseline’ score in the fall, and in the spring to 100 seniors to measure educational skills gained over the past four years.

For all but one of the last six academic years, the Chancellor’s Office has requested and paid for the administration of the CLA at all CSU campuses — about $6,500 per year. The Chancellor’s Office has paid for it again this academic year, 2013-2014. If Cal Poly were to administer the assessment to more students (besides the minimum of 100 freshmen and seniors), the cost would be $20 per additional student.

Each year, Cal Poly has encouraged more and more students to participate in the assessment, but has had trouble getting enough seniors to take part. As the CLA informational website at Cal Poly states “the more students that participate in the assessment, the more confidence an institution can have in its results.”

However, the encouragement may no longer be needed, as employers are now using the test as a way to hire students.

Employers have recently stated that with grade point averages on the rise, a test like the CLA may be more of a helpful tool when hiring.

A Google spokeswoman also told the Wall Street Journal that GPAs aren’t an effective way to measure how a student will work in the job environment because they have shown little correlation with job success.

The test, however, has caused much controversy over the past several years. Because scores do not impact a student’s individual academic record (leading to lack of motivation to excel when taking the test), many believe the results are not accurate. Due to previous test scoring methods also being criticized, the CLA recently restructured itself to the CLA+. Instead of randomly assigning either a performance task or a writing-intensive task to students, all students will now take the same type of test — a performance task and a series of questions. Methods of scoring have also been adjusted by the Council for Aid to Education.

Jessica Carson, administrative analyst and specialist for the Academic Programs Office at Cal Poly, believes that hiring should not be so heavily dependent on CLA scores when reviewing fresh graduates.

“Even if the CLA could be proven to assess well what it claims to assess, it looks at only a portion of what we hope students learn at Cal Poly,” Carson wrote in an email to Mustang Daily. “If employers propose using students’ individual scores on the Collegiate Learning Assessment as a hiring tool, we would hope they would look at many other factors, such as grades in the core curriculum, ability to think creatively, leadership skills, diversity awareness and sensitivity to others, adeptness at working in groups, and personal ethics. These and many other aspects of what we learn are all very important, and are not addressed in the CLA+.”

Currently, Cal Poly tests seniors in late winter and early spring quarters of their graduating year. Since scores are not available to students until late July or August, job searches would thus have to be delayed. If Cal Poly students were to take the CLA+ towards the end of their junior year for employment reasons, scores could not be used as a means to gauge educational gains for outgoing seniors. Cal Poly would then be forced to add an additional assessment program for them and may have to make the students who want to take the assessment in their junior year pay for it themselves.

Upcoming biological sciences freshman Sukrti Thonse believes students should not be hired based on such a way of testing knowledge.

“I don’t think one should get a job based on test scores,” Thonse said, “but rather based on the type of person you are and by the amount of skills and knowledge you have in the subject area.”

Whether or not more students participate in the test for employment reasons, this assessment represents a potential shift of competition in the employment world for fresh graduates.

Suha Saya contributed to this staff report.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Council for American Education administers the SAT and ACT college entrance exams. Information from a Google spokeswoman was also incorrectly attributed. This post has been updated to reflect this information. 

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