Prep2Test: Power preparation

What started out as a 45-minute video orientation on assessment testing at Santa Monica College quickly evolved into an outreach campaign to better educate and inform students on the importance of taking placement tests seriously. The Prep2Test program was launched in 2011 by Esau Tovar, counseling and assessment center faculty leader at SMC, who conceptualized the program and has worked in the assessment center for the last decade. In 2010, a report called "One shot deal?" published by WestEd, a non-profit seeking the improvement of education, looked at placement practices of community colleges in California. SMC was sharply criticized for not communicating to students the importance of preparing for testing, and that placement tests are high-stakes tests due to the nature of student placement.

Although students are allowed to retest two weeks after their first attempt, they will eventually be locked into whichever levels they place. A low score on the placement test can have severe ramifications, and can set a student's transfer back by as many as two years, Tovar said.

Students who do not do well can become overwhelmed and unmotivated due to the amount of work they have to do to reach college-level courses, something Tovar called the cooling-out effect. Tovar had the solution, but was not seeing the results he wanted and did not see anyone on campus taking initiative to prepare students.

"I used the 'One shot deal?' as a vehicle to substantiate what I knew all along, that we needed to do more," said Tovar. "The central message of the program is take the assessment seriously, and more importantly prepare before testing."

The Prep2Test program was recently awarded the Promising Outcomes Work and Exemplary Research Award, or the POWER Award, for excellence in assessment. The annual award is presented by the Academic Senate for community colleges and the RP Group.

This is the Prep2Test's program second POWER Award in three years, the first being awarded in 2010.

The theme of this year's award was to create institutional change through assessment testing. Recent data suggests that students had a change of heart in their perception of assessment testing.

In 2011, 25 percent of students placed into college-level math at SMC. Two and a half years later, after the inception of Prep2Test, that number has risen to 33 percent. The campus has also seen a decrease in students placing in the lowest levels of math, from 66 to 56 percent, according to the SMC Prep2Test program data provided by Tovar.

However, within the 2012-13 school year, the amount of students requesting retests after their initial placement test has decreased from 15 percent to five percent, with 40 to 50 percent of students who retest placing one class higher, states the data.

"I’m not necessarily attributing the higher placement levels exclusively to Prep2Test," said Tovar. "Recognition is great, but personally I'm more about students hearing the message, that there are consequences to not taking the test seriously."

The Prep2Test program has expanded its content beyond the video to a condensed six-and-half-minute version of the orientation, an interactive Powerpoint and a cellphone app.

The narrated Powerpoint teaches students everything they need to know about the placement test, policies, the test's content and format, and it even incorporates sample questions.

While the assessment app will be beta tested in December, the app will take some of the preparation material and condense it to be available to students anywhere.

SMC admits around 6,000 students every fall, and in an effort to further reach out to prospective SMC students, outreach counselors from the assessment center visited 20 local high schools with a presentation to encourage participation in Admitted Students Day, when busloads of high school students come to SMC to take the assessment test and talk to counselors regarding potential classes to take.

Tovar attributed the success of the program to an improved communication plan, feedback from students and a collaborative faculty effort.

Kiersten Elliot, dean of enrollment services at SMC, emails or "e-blasts" students, informing them that if they come prepared to take the test by a certain day, they will improve their enrollment date, Tovar said.

Students from more than 100 different countries have visited Prep2Test's YouTube channel.

“I’m just happy that students are hearing the message somehow I really don’t care how," said Tovar. "It’s really the message to prepare. If they hear it from a parent, that’s great. If they hear it from a counselor, that’s fantastic as well."

NewsHenry CrumblishComment