Improving Programmatic Effectiveness and Retention with a New Assessment System
The Texas State Technical College West Texas (TSTC) LVN to ADN Nursing Program, an accelerated online program, was established in 2008 and grew to include three campuses serving 26 rural counties. It is part of the Texas State Technical College (TSTC) system, which is the only state-operated system of two-year technical schools in Texas. Designed to provide vocational and technical education to people entering the workforce or in the midst of a career change, TSTC is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS) to award associate of applied science degrees and certificates of completion, and it is also governed by the Texas Board of Nursing (TBN). Since it is a performance-based institution, TSTC is reimbursed only when graduates secure employment within their chosen field of study.
All types of nursing programs and schools across the U.S. must deal with high student-attrition rates. In fact, the national average for student-attrition rates for LVN to ADN nursing schools ranges from about 45% to 70% in any given year. At TSTC-WT’s LVN to ADN program, administration has faced this same issue. By 2011, the TSTCWT LVN to ADN Nursing Program had graduated several classes of students; however, its National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) pass rate of about 77% was considerably low, and the school was placed on conditional status, meaning it could accept no new students. This, in conjunction with its attrition rate (which was 43% in 2009 but had fallen to 10% by 2012), did not give nursing administrators high hopes for the future of the program.
Even with lower-than-average attrition rates, the school was still missing out on many thousands of dollars’ worth of reimbursements by the state. In fear of losing their ability to train students who could become registered nurses, nursing administrators decided they needed a better way to provide students with feedback and evaluate the program. This meant assessing the curriculum and identifying opportunities for improvement in teaching, remediation, and faculty development. The remediation efforts had not been focused up to this point, which was problematic as this corrective tool is fundamental to student engagement and retention. While searching for assessment systems that would help alleviate their problems, they found ExamSoft.
ExamSoft enabled the nursing program at TSTC-WT to begin testing its students in a computer-based system that emulated the NCLEX-testing environment and enabled faculty to better remediate student-learning issues. With ExamSoft’s ability to link every test question back to NCLEX categories, Differentiated Essential Competencies as delineated by the TBN, and Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) as indicated by SACS, faculty could now tell exactly what areas students needed help in and could offer students targeted feedback.
Now, after each exam, faculty members generate learning analytics that provide the data they need to target at-risk students and immediately implement remediation strategies focused on students’ individual needs. ExamSoft also generates detailed longitudinal analytics that the nursing program now uses to track the performance of students throughout their academic careers. TSTC-WT also uses this longitudinal data to map its curriculum: if results show that students are falling behind in a particular subject area, TSTC-WT can immediately restructure weekly objectives to correspond with the online course and then create varied remediation plans to accommodate each student. Thus, faculty can easily implement changes to support student success which supports group or cohort learning.
Essentially, the analytic documentation provides trending, which allows faculty and nursing administration to meet program, cohort, and individual student challenges, whether within a specific semester or over a period of time. Since implementing ExamSoft, the program has greatly improved with respect to identifying student-testing issues, determining content area deficits in the curriculum, implementing online tutoring focused on students’ individual needs, and creating topic-focused remediation plans.
During the first year of implementation, the TSTC-WT LVN to ADN Nursing Program achieved a 100% NCLEX pass rate, and it has been taken off of conditional status by the TBN. Finally, its attrition rate has fallen even lower—to less than 4%—and the program has been able to enhance revenue reimbursements from the state.
“Targeting the subject areas each struggles with, so we can help them on an individual basis, gives us a lot of room to make sure every student is performing well. This really helps us engage our students in ways that we could not otherwise, and engaging our students is one way we are able to keep our retention rate as low as we’ve been able to keep it.”
- Shawntay Sparks-Hubbard, Instructor and Program Chair, Texas State Technical College-West Texas LVN to ADN Nursing Program