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ISSUE 119 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/11/2005

Study uses incentives

By Emelie Heltsley
Staff Writer

Friday, November 11, 2005

First years have the opportunity to participate in a new study called the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), designed to gauge personal progress in four specific areas throughout the time spent in college. The assessment, part of a collaboration between Carleton, Macalester, Grinnell and St. Olaf, focuses on effective writing, critical thinking, analytical reasoning and a global outlook. The CLA is funded by grants from the Teagle Foundation and the Lumina Foundation.

"The CLA is not a test," Director of Academic Research and Planning Jo Beld said. "It is an opportunity to put effective writing, critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills to work and show an ability to use them."

Beld explained that the assessment, which is usually between two and three hours long and completed online, is given three times over the students' four years at St. Olaf. The test is given during the fall of their first year, spring of their sophomore year and spring of their senior year.

Because the assessment is administered multiple times, "students can track their own development" over their college career, Beld said.

Beld described the format of the assessment, which includes three parts. The assessment has a hypothetical situation, or "Performance Task," which focuses on gathering information about a situation and making a decision. The hypothetical situation could include such things as memos, reports and interviews that the student would read and come to a decision about buying a product or completing an action.

"It is qualitative [as opposed to quantitative] and is much more similar to the GRE or MCAT," Beld said. "The test is great preparation for the job market, the GRE, the LSAT and the MCAT."

As part of the collaboration between colleges and the grants received to track progress with the CLA, St. Olaf needs to involve 200 first years in the project.

"We are just over half-way there," Beld said, admitting that getting students to take the assessment has been a challenge.

"It sounds scary and students are busy," she said.

In order to encourage students to take the test, various prizes and perks are being offered. All students who participate get Basil's pizza and will be invited to an ice cream social in December. In addition, participants will have the chance to win five prizes worth $200, including an iPod Nano and gift certificates to IKEA and J. Crew.

"With only 200 students, you have a good chance [to win]," Beld said.

There are also unofficial competitions between various campus groups to encourage first-years to participate.

Residence Life will provide a new television to the residence hall with the most students participating in the CLA. The first-year choral groups, the Viking Chorus and the Manitou Singers, as well as the bands and the orchestras are holding a competition to see which groups will have the most participants in the CLA. To the winners of the instrumental and vocal groups, Beld will write a song about the director of the group.

Despite the shortage of first-year students willing to participate, upperclass students are excited about the CLA.

"I can’t wait to take the CLA in the spring when 100 seniors will have the opportunity,” Thomas Rusert ‘'06, president of the Student Government Association, said.

Students interested in taking the CLA still can participate before the assessment deadline Nov. 20, and are asked to contact the Office of Academic Research and Planning in Administration 127, or e-mail Brooke Thaden-Koch at for more information.

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