Low test scores prompt nursing school to re-evaluate program, curriculum


The Beacon/Jake Cochran The nursing program curriculum is under re-evaluation for improvement because of low scores on the national nursing licensing exam taken yearly.

Christine Lee, Senior News Editor

Lower than average scores on the national nursing licensing exam have caused the School of Nursing to re-evaluate much of its program curriculum.

Results from last year’s National Council Licensing Exam, which tracks scores from Oct. 1, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2013, indicate an overall pass rate for first time undergraduate test takers of 74 percent, compared to an 87 percent in 2012 and 90 percent in 2011.

Associate Dean of the School of Nursing Mary Ann Merrigan said because the school has not attained an 80 percent pass rate, the state requires them to come up with an action plan to boost the scores. The scores have no effect on the school’s accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

She said the results are an “anomaly” for the school as they have always had a high pass rate on the exam which tests students’ basic knowledge in nursing principles in order to receive a license to practice.

“It’s very upsetting to us,” she said.

Merrigan said the test plan had increased in difficulty in April, something she said happens every few years. However, she when the test changes, there is a one to two percent decrease in the overall pass rate. This year there was a 10 percent decrease in overall pass rate.

“That was perhaps not only an anomaly in our program,” Merrigan said.

Proponents of the action plan include changing the passing grade of nursing courses to 79 percent, maintaining a grade-point average of 2.5, requiring a 500 math and verbal SAT score to be admitted into the program and reconstructing courses.

These parts of the measures were implemented because it was found that students who didn’t pass were getting grades between 75 to 79 in their nursing courses. These students also discovered to have carried a low grade point average and, scored less than 500 in math on the SAT’s.

The plan also means changes to the nursing curriculum itself. Although all nursing course exams are set up percentage-wise, like the NCLEX exam, courses were also re-constructed, including a new course in cognitive reasoning being offered in order to better prepare students to take the test in addition to the already-instituted review course offered through Kaplan. Merrigan said this idea was something suggested by students on their exit exams.

“Some of the students told me that they had friends in other nursing programs at other universities who had some kind of a mandated course,” she said.

Merrigan explained that these measures were already being implemented and the cognitive reasoning course was the only piece of the action plan that had not been re-evaluated.

“These are all in our action plan, however, we had instituted these things already,” she said.