Eastern College – A study of the validity of IML’s StudentKeys assessments: Freshman acclimatization and retention programs and the impact on First Year student success and retention

IML’s StudentKeys tools were used as part of a self-administering and self-interpreting program designed to help students become better acclimatized to the university by gaining a more thorough understanding of themselves. This program contained four modules focused on personality styles, learning styles and goal setting. It aims to retain students in university by assisting them to fit in, adjust to a new environment, improve their study habits, and set career, educational and personal development goals for the future. 


Method

325 First Year students at Eastern College participated in this study. Sixteen instructors were randomly assigned to one of

two conditions:

          (a) Control Condition, where the instructor taught a three-credit course with a common syllabus that had been taught for the past four years. This course did not include sessions on career issues, personality styles or learning
styles. This course utilizes a multi-faceted approach to wellness by looking at intellectual, socio-emotional and
physical well-being.
          (b) IML StudentKeys Condition, where the instructors added four sessions using IML materials to the course taught
by those in the control condition. Four workbooks were used in the study:
• The Personality Style Workbook
• The Perceptual Learning Style Workbook
• The Cognitive Thinking Style Workbook
• The Career Choice Workbook

Each workbook contained information for a 1-hour 20-minute session and included: (a) an introduction to the topic, (b) a self-assessment tool, (c) instructions for scoring and interpreting the profile, (d) an overview of the personality or learning styles, (e) more detailed descriptions of each particular style, (f ) detailed suggestions for how to use the information and (g) exercises for students to complete to apply what they had learned. Leader’s guides were supplied to each instructor, containing suggestions for using the material in the classroom.

Instructors received a full day of training by an IML StudentKeys trainer and had a leader’s guide to help them plan class activities. Evaluation forms were designed and administered to the students at the end of each IML StudentKeys session. Students rated their reactions on a 7-point scale. The results are given in

Table 5.


Results

Students were also asked to create a personal success plan to outline their strengths, weaknesses and established goals

for their first year of university. As can be seen from Table 5, more of the students found that the session had dramatically

increased their self-awareness, helped them gain an insight into others’ personality styles and how this impacted on their

interactions. A large majority were also very positive about how useful, interesting and engaging the facilitator and

materials were.


Test-retest reliability

To assess for test-retest reliability of the IML materials, students’ two highest styles on the Personality Style Assessment was recorded and these were compared to their responses on the same dimensions two weeks later. 49.3% of the students’ styles remained exactly the same. 20.9% had the same top two styles but in reverse order. 23.1 % of the students had the same top style but their second style had changed, and 8.3% had no agreement in their styles over the two-week period. Overall, 72.4% of the students’ top personality style remained constant and 20.9% changed their top style to become their second style. 


Validity

To test the predictive validity of the IML StudentKeys instruments and program, four major outcomes were looked at:

  • improved study skills, leading to higher grades;
  • better adjustment or acclimatization to university life;
  • higher confidence in the ability to make career choices; and
  • higher levels of student retention.

t-tests were used to find out if there was a statistically significant difference between StudentKeys participants and nonparticipants.

(a) Improved study skills

After controlling for academic performance upon entry to university, an ANOVA indicated a significant difference in first semester Grade Point Averages (GPAs) between those who had gone through the StudentKeys program and those who had not (F+3.934, p<0.05). In the first semester, students who had participated in the program had a mean GPA of 2.85 and those who had not had an average GPA of 2.64. In the first year, StudentKeys participants had a cumulative GPA of 2.77 and non-participants had an average of 2.55.

(b) Better adjustment to university life  All participants were also asked to complete a Student Adaptation to University Questionnaire (SACQ) about two weeks after the last IML StudentKeys session. As shown in the table below, there was a slightly higher rating in each category, although statistically there were no significant differences.

(c) High confidence in making career choices

All participants also completed a rating on their confidence in making a career choice. While those who went through the  StudentKeys program gave slightly higher ratings, these were statistically not significantly different from those who did not go through the program.

(d) Retention rates

First-to-second year retention rates of IML StudentKeys participants were compared to the rates of non-participants using a  Chi-Square Analysis. This showed a significant difference in retention rates between StudentKeys participants and nonparticipants. Further results are shown in Table 8.


Predicted outcomes

Final course evaluations contained items which described possible outcomes for the course. A t-test was conducted to compare responses of IML StudentKeys participants to non-participants. As seen from the table, there were a number of significant differences in the responses of the two groups. IML StudentKeys participants were more likely to agree that they had learned to set realistic goals, understand their style of taking in information, identify their personality style, identify characteristics of their style of thinking, understand their learning style and adapt to classes that were not ideal for their thinking style.


A t-test was also used to explore differences in instructor ratings between StudentKeys participants and non- participants. As  seen in the table below, although instructors were randomly assigned to different conditions, StudentKeys participants rated their instructors significantly more positively in the areas of advising, availability when help was needed, helpfulness in discussing the personal success plan, enthusiasm for the course and overall quality of class discussions and activities.


Conclusion

The IML StudentKeys tool is a reliable and valid tool, when used to help students become acclimatized to university life,  improve their study habits and achieve higher grades, become more confident in choosing a career and remain at the university. The following outcomes were also achieved: participants in the StudentKeys course achieved significantly higher GPAs in their first semester and the first year. They also showed a significantly higher rate of retention in university compared to those who had not been through the course. 

While most student feedback was positive, there were some negative comments and suggestions for improvement. Quite a  number of students did not enjoy the self-assessment process, regardless of which instrument was used. They also wanted more class time devoted to discussing the results of the assessments and their implications.

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