There is perhaps no more harrowing task than building a whole new program from the ground up. There are a number of critical milestones — such as student retention, curriculum coverage, and, crucially for the survival of a new program, accreditation review — that have to be met.
Dr. Dave Weldon knew all this in 2017, when he joined Biloxi, Mississippi’s William Carey University. He joined WCU as its Associate Dean of Pharmacy and Assessment and, working with School of Pharmacy Dean Dr. Michael Malloy, began laying the groundwork for the schools’ new accelerated Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program, a first in the Gulf Coast region.
One of their first steps was adopting ExamSoft, which they used to assess the program and, ultimately, streamline the accreditation process for the new program.
Building a Consistent Assessment Process
The bedrock of any good program is its assessment process, and for more reasons than simply its role in streamlining accreditation, important though that is.
Establishing a clear assessment process — including building the good habits required to consistently maintain it as the years go on — is a great benefit to you and your faculty. It will provide them with clear, actionable data which they can use to improve their teaching, as well as the quality of their exam and other assessment materials.
Students also benefit, both directly and indirectly, from clearly defined assessment practices. Principally, it allows you to offer your students a consistent test-taking experience across all of a program’s courses. This eases burden on the students and helps to keep assessment data free from non-performance related anomalies.
In starting a brand new program, Weldon had an excellent opportunity: while you can change an assessment process or means of data collection at any point, it’s less than ideal to do so. There truly is no substitute for the ability to build the assessment processes as part-and-parcel of the program itself. Doing so might seem like a lot of groundwork, especially in light of everything else that goes into building a brand new program, but will save untold time and hardship when compared to a shift from one process to another sometime in the future.
To make sure that the PharmD program had a solid assessment plan in place long before its first student sign-up, he founded the Office of Assessment with Assessment Coordinator Cynthia Grimes. They set up ExamSoft and trained the program’s faculty on how to upload exam content, assign categories to specific items, and other tasks that produce crucial granular data for the assessment process.
With this in place, the data can flow and you can start performing more advanced reporting functions.
Remediation Plans for Retention
With the proper categories in place — ones designed to clearly define learning objectives and milestones — you can easily identify areas in which students are struggling with the material. This will give you the insights needed to identify and remediate struggling students sooner in their educational journey. You can tag assessment items to course topics or level of understanding, such as Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Retaining students is more important than ever for growing programs, as enrollment rates continue to decline. Crucial to that effort is knowing which students require additional support and offering it to them.
Evaluating Curriculum Coverage on the Path to Accreditation
This fact is sometimes lost in the weeds: curriculum coverage and accreditation go hand-in-hand. Accreditation organizations exist to ensure that programs are serving their students, after all. Because of this close relationship, that same data you use to assess students is also valuable for tracking accreditation outcomes.
In designing the PharmD program, Weldon and Grimes decided to use ExamSoft to track programmatic performance in three primary categories: Levels of Learning, Ability-Based Outcomes (ABOs), and Educational Outcomes and Competencies (EOCs). They chose 10 EOCs, selected to align with both curricular goals and Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ASPE) expectations:
- Foundational Knowledge
- Critical and Innovative Thinking
- Ethics and Legal Decision-Making
- Systems Management
- Pharmacy Practice and Provision
- Interprofessional Collaboration
- Promotion of Individual and Public Health Wellness
- Personal and Professional Development
- Commitment to Service
With a plan in place, the School of Pharmacy’s PharmD program received Precandidate Status from ACPE. A year later, in 2018, ACPE granted the program Candidate Status and the PharmD program was able to begin enrollment.
With the inaugural class inducted, the Office of Assessment’s work truly began. Using ExamSoft’s digital assessment platform, Grimes generated EOC coverage reports at the end of each program year (among other collections of data), detailing the programmatic performance of each one.
The high-level view that these and similar programmatic reports provided to the ACPE went a long way toward streamlining accreditation visits, illustrating adjustments to the curriculum and how they improved performance. ACPE conducted their first accreditation visit in March 2021, and the WCU School of Pharmacy accelerated Doctor of Pharmacy program received full accreditation in July of the same year.
Reach Milestone Program Goals with ExamSoft
ExamSoft is a digital assessment platform, driven by data, that does much more than help you build and administer exams — you can leverage ExamSoft’s data collection and assessment tools to advance important program-wide initiatives and milestone goals.
Contact us to learn more about using ExamSoft for objectives-centered assessment.