HESI and Sherpath: Working Together to Improve Outcomes for Black Hawk College

Over the 14 years Trudy Starr, MSN, RN, has been an educator, student success has been at the center of everything she’s done. Identifying each student’s areas of strength and weakness, and then developing the right learning strategies for them along the way, has been key to achieving steady progression in NCLEX pass rates.

As the department chair for the Associate Degree Nursing Program at Black Hawk College, Starr has seen NCLEX scores from the cohort that started with Sherpath rise from 91% in 2017 to 98% in 2018, which is a dramatic increase from 84% in 2014.

A Strong Start

“As educators, seeing our students succeed in the program is our end-goal, and it’s what gets us up in the morning,” Starr says. “But it can be challenging for me and all of our faculty to identify the students who are going to struggle early, so we can intervene early.”

The HESI Admission Assessment is a great place to start by gauging academic readiness and identifying learning and personality styles of new students. HESI Admission Assessment scores are valid predictors of student success, assisting educators and students in identifying and remediating academic weaknesses prior to entering a program.

“The more information we have on the front end about the whole student, the better we are able set them up for success even before they arrive in class,” Starr says.

Building a Learning Roadmap for Students

With two decades of experience in cardiac care, Starr joined Black Hawk College in 2006 as the clinical educator for the cardiac intervention unit in a health system setting, ultimately becoming department chair in 2015. During this time, she has had the opportunity to work collaboratively with faculty and keep her hand in the classroom. Starr spends more than half her time teaching as lead instructor for the final semester of the college’s Associate Degree in Nursing.

Assessing options, building consensus and charting the path for implementing curriculum is her main focus as both a leader and a teacher. For example, in the process of evaluating textbooks and tools, the faculty decided on a complementary approach that includes Elsevier textbooks, HESI exams and Sherpath to support their students’ learning experience.

Staying the Course

Starr credits utilizing HESI testing at the end of each semester throughout the entire program for contributing to the improvement in student NCLEX pass rates. Sherpath, with Elsevier Adaptive Quizzing (EAQ) that faculty can assign – or students can build for themselves – provides valuable practice, reinforcement and insights on students’ progress.

“For the assignments that I create, I just go through and pick the questions I want them to answer,” Starr says.  “Students can also create their own quizzes by selecting from hundreds offered on a particular topic.”

NCSBN recommends 3,500 to 4,000 practice questions before the students come to take NCLEX. Between HESI and Sherpath, students have a vast bank to use in their adaptive learning process. And, faculty have ample opportunity to identify any gaps or weaknesses to address without waiting for semester-end testing.

Being adaptive, it gives them an easier question first. And if they get a right, it progresses to harder questions on that same concept. “They receive instant feedback and it tracks whether they’re a novice or they’re to the point where of answering questions at the competent level and up to mastery,” Starr says. “It reflects my teaching style: I ask a lot of questions to help them develop critical thinking skills.”

Student feedback has been increasingly positive about the use of complementary content between texts, HESI exams and Sherpath. Starr pointed out, “One change that I think is going to really benefit Sherpath is that it now draws from the specific textbook that we’ve picked, as opposed to content from multiple books.” Less variance in wording means that students now are less likely to be frustrated and confused than previously when they may have interpreted wording variances differently.

Advice for Charting Your Path

When introducing new tools, Starr starting slowly, perhaps alternating chapters to give students and faculty a chance to learn how to use it and adapt it to their own learning and teaching styles. She encourages educators to use standardized testing even if it is not required for passing a course.

 “It gives students and teachers a way to track their journey and reveal where they need help while there is time for remediation.”

Starr shared a story that illustrates how the flexibility of Sherpath really made a difference when a polar vortex shut down the campus for multiple days, causing hours of required classroom lecture time to be cancelled.

“I was able to assign Sherpath modules which students could complete and document as the equivalent of a class with the required content. They absorbed it, completed it, and so it counted.”

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