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In 2006, Almanzars supervisor informed her that, unless she received her degree soon, her hours would be cut. She returned to Hostos to take ACT workshops and finally passed the ACT in 2007, but then failed the CPE. In 2008 she completed her final two classes, and in 2009 transferred to Lehman to pursue her B.A. But in the meantime, the nursing home hired a CUNY graduate, and Almanzars hours were reduced from 30 to 25 hours per week. Almanzar found another job, but, due to budget cuts, lost that position and returned to Amsterdam to work as a nurses aide, a position that she says pays $600 per month less than her old job.
Last fall, barred from receiving financial aid from Lehman because of her CPE resultsstudents who fail the test multiple times are shifted to non-matriculated statusAlmanzar dedicated herself to preparing to take the test once again. Most mornings, she pulled out a copy of the advance reading, an excerpt from literary critic Stanley Fishs 2008 book, Save the World on Your Own Time, as soon as she boarded the Bx22 bus, highlighting sentences, making notes in the margins, and looking up words in her pocket American Heritage dictionary. On October 21, Almanzar entered a crowded testing room at Lehman, as did thousands of students across CUNY campuses, and took the CPE for the seventh time.
Though Almanzar didnt know it then, the CPEs fate was already all but sealed. In an October 7 memo to the CUNY community, provost Alexandra Logue promised to put a committee together to identify a different test to assess student learning at CUNY, promising that it would look for a test that allows measurement of the value added by a CUNY educationin other words, a test that would measure what and how much students learn while at CUNY.
Faculty members who served on the CUNY Proficiency Examination Task Force say the school system is likely to adopt the College Learning Assessment, a test created by the Council for Aid to Education, a think tank chaired by CUNYs board chair, Benno Schmidt. The CLA is designed to test a small sample of studentsperhaps 200 first-year students and 200 seniorsand use the results to draw conclusions about student learning at the college as a whole.
The CPE and the CLA were designed for very different purposes, says Peter Ewell, vice president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems and an expert on college testing. Whereas the CPE was instituted as a way of guaranteeing a student has gotten above a minimum level, he says, the CLA, because it takes such a small sample, cant serve this function. Its used instead as a way to measure the quality of a universitys programs and how they shape students learning.
Ewell notes that CUNYs decision to rescind the CPEpopular as it may be with faculty and studentscarries some risk. The price that is paid for not having something like this is that you dont have as much public credibility that the guaranteed amount of learning is taking place, he says. Still, he says the decision to eliminate the test doesnt surprise him: Its rare that these things really last a long time.
With the CPE no longer a hurdle, Almanzar is set to finally receive her associates degree from Hostos in June. If she takes courses during the summer and winter terms, as she plans to, shell be able to graduate from Lehman with a B.S. in recreation education in just a year and a half. By the time a new test is instituted, Almanzar will be finished with CUNY.
Though she feels that the CPE should never have been a graduation requirement, she acknowledges that her years of trying to pass the exam helped her learn how to read and analyze articles. Without a hint of resentment, she says: I think I can make it. I can do it finally.