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Developmental Education Placement Exams

Developmental Education Placement Exams

In a 2011 survey, 100 percent of public two-year colleges reported using a math placement test to assign students to developmental courses, and 94 percent reported using a reading test.

Seven community colleges in the State University of New York (SUNY) system are participating in a randomized study in which 13,000 students were placed using multiple measures or placement tests alone. In the first semester of the study, students placed using multiple measures were 5 percentage points more likely to be placed into college-level math and more than 30 percentage points more likely to be placed into college-level English than their peers evaluated using placement tests alone. Students placed using multiple measures were also more likely to pass college-level English and math in their first term.

One CCRC study of a statewide community college system found that the ACCUPLACER severely misplaces 33 percent of entering community college students. Based on their ACCUPLACER scores, a third of entering students were either "overplaced" in college-level courses and failed or "underplaced" in remedial courses when they could have gotten a B or better in a college-level course. Using students' high school GPA instead of placement testing to make placement decisions was predicted to cut severe placement error rates in half (to 17 percent).

Another CCRC study of a large urban system found that the COMPASS severely misplaced 33 percent of entering students in English and 24 percent of entering students in math. Using the best of either placement test scores or high school transcript information was predicted to lower the remediation rate by 8 percentage points in math and 12 percentage points in English without compromising success rates in college-level courses.

In response to the research about the inaccuracy of placement tests, the number of colleges using a combination of measures to place students has grown substantially. In 2016, 57 percent of community colleges used multiple measures for placement in math and 51 percent used multiple measures for placement in reading and writing.

A wide variety of instruments are currently available that assess noncognitive skills—a group of skills and attributes that, although difficult to define and measure, are widely acknowledged to be essential for student success. The interest in developing and measuring noncognitive skills has spurred the growth of instruments used to assess students’ competencies in these areas. (For more information, see Kafka, 2016.)

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