An integrative, pragmatic approach to evaluating the college-level examination program
Several valid approaches to program evaluation have been developed as the field of evaluation research has matured. However, no approach in its totality provides an exact fit for any particular evaluation project. Therefore, integrating aspects of valid approaches that are practical for the project at hand is an evaluation approach worthy of exploration. This integrative, pragmatic approach to evaluation informed this study, which was aimed at evaluating the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP). How CLEP is implemented by postsecondary schools participating in the program, how it is perceived by schools, faculty, and students, and outcomes for students who earn credit through CLEP relative to those who earn credit through the Advanced Placement (AP) program and through course enrollment were examined. A stratified random sample of participating postsecondary institutions was surveyed to learn how they were implementing CLEP and how they perceived it. Samples of students and faculty members also were surveyed about their perceptions of CLEP. To evaluate the educational outcomes of CLEP for students who earn credit through the program, measures for three entering classes of students who earned credit for nine different Subject Examinations were compared to those of closely matched students who earned credit through course enrollment. CLEP students also were compared to students who earned credit through AP in six of the nine subjects. Results indicated that CLEP is being implemented favorably by participating schools, however students and faculty likely are not receiving sufficient information about it. Both students and schools expressed positive perceptions of CLEP, while faculty members were more critical. On the educational outcomes measured, CLEP students did as well as or better than those in the comparison groups in nearly every case. These findings indicate that CLEP is a successful credit-by-examination program that could benefit more students if issues regarding communication of school policies and faculty attitudes were resolved. The use of the integrative, pragmatic approach demonstrated effectiveness in allowing for a meaningful summative statement to be made about CLEP’s value, but a metaevaluation is needed to determine if the approach is a valid framework for evaluation research.