Excelsior College’s Diagnostic Assessment and Achievement of College Skills (DAACS) will transform the way students enter and progress through college. Historically, institutions have relied on high-stakes placement exams that provide a dichotomous outcome: students are either ready or not ready to begin credit bearing coursework. As a result of this type of assessment, approximately 60% of students in open access institutions are deemed not ready and then redirected into non-credit remediation courses, costing approximately $4 billion a year.

College Readiness
(National Center for Public Policy & Higher Education, 2010)
Those who enter remediation programs – primarily minority, low-income, and first generation students – at best, delay degree completion, and at worst, withdraw from the institution. In essence, billions of dollars are being spent to drive the very students our nation is seeking to help out of college.

Why DAACS? Why now?

DAACS will provide institutions with an alternative, cost effective approach to traditional placement exams and remedial education. Although it is being developed in an online learning environment, personalized feedback regarding college preparation is equally relevant to students studying in a traditional classroom environment.

The inclusion of both academic (i.e. reading, writing & math) and non-academic (i.e. academic self-regulation, grit, math anxiety, & test anxiety) assessments provides a more complete picture of the students’ abilities. Moreover, this allows for targeted interventions based upon each individual student’s needs.

For self-regulation, volition, and test and math anxiety, students will be provided strategies that research has shown to be most effective for their particular learning and self-regulation style. For instance, students who score high in extrinsic motivation would be provided different feedback and strategies than those who score high in intrinsic motivation.

Traditional Placement Exam and RemediationDAACS Innovations
For-profit examinations with a per-student costAn open access tool with no per student fee.
Feedback to students is a pass/fail score. Information about items after the assessment are not generally available.Formative feedback with links to support services, feedback explaining incorrect items, and information for relearning content.
Scores may be imported into a student’s record.Detailed data informs academic advisement, outreach to special populations, recommended learning and support services. Detailed data integrated into predictive analytics.
Academic preparedness only in reading, writing, and math addressedAcademic and non-academic preparedness addressed including SRL skills, math and text anxiety, “Grit”. DAACS is also extendible to include other domains as determined by institutions (e.g. science, computer literacy).
Credit-bearing study delayedEarly credit-bearing study encouraged utilizing relevant academic support in parallel with for-credit courses.
Students pay for courses not leading to credential, financial aid exhausted prior to degree completionFinancial aid is applied to program requirements.

By capturing both academic and non-academic student data, DAACS has the potential to substantially increase the efficacy of predictive models, allowing institutions to more accurately identify at-risk students and provide targeted outreach.

What valid open access assessments will be used to create DAACS?

DAACS will be built using the following open access assessments:

DAACS will also link to open educational resources (OERs). Two existing OERs – Khan Academy and the Excelsior Online Writing Lab (OWL) will provide educational content for students needing to brush up on math and writing skills. As a second phase to the DAACS project, Excelsior will seek funding to develop OERs for self-regulated learning and reading comprehension, providing re-learning tutorial material for all four competencies required for beginning college study.

How will DAACS work?

DAACS returns control over progress toward a degree to the student. Students will assess their abilities over the course of 90-120 minutes, a time commitment comparable to current placement exams, and will receive in return a wealth of personalized information reflecting their item responses. Completed as part of the orientation to college, students will recognize the helpful, rather than threatening, nature of the questions. The detailed and actionable feedback will strengthen the relationship between student and advisor and help faculty provide more individualized and targeted instruction to ensure a successful transition to college (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006).

Model of Self-Regulation and Feedback (Adapted from Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006)

What is the time frame for creating DAACS?

In Year 1, a prototype of DAACS – including the assessment framework, feedback statements, and links to open educational resources – will be developed and the reporting technology made operational. In Year 2, a pilot will be conducted to further refine the framework. A total of 34,800 students, 16,800 from Excelsior and 18,000 from WGU, will pilot DAACS. Of these students, 24,660 are members of one or more underserved groups: ethnic/racial minority, low income, first generation, or rural.

A one-time investment in developing the DAACS technology will provide highly-personalized information to entering students, and prepare advisors with a wealth of information about their students in advance of their first meeting. This system can scale up to serve additional institutions year after year, requiring only minor maintenance. Those who will benefit most are underserved students arriving at college from poorly performing high schools and the open access higher educational institutions which serve them. At the end of the two-year period of development and piloting, DAACS will be freely available for use by any individual or institution.