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Predicting Success in College: The Importance of Placement Tests and High School Transcripts

By: Clive Belfield & Peter M. Crosta


This paper uses student data from a statewide community college system to examine the validity of placement tests and high school information in predicting course grades and college performance.  It considers the ACCUPLACER and COMPASS placement tests, using two quantitative and two literacy tests from each battery.

The authors find that placement tests do not yield strong predictions of how students will perform in college. The authors find the “severe” error rates using the placement test cutoffs is 27 to 33 percent for English. For math, the severe error rates are lower but still nontrivial.

In contrast, high school GPAs are useful for predicting many aspects of students’ college performance, and have a strong association with college GPA.

The authors found that using high school GPA instead of placement tests would reduce the severe error rates in the system by half across both English and math.