Teachers College, Columbia University

Increasing Gatekeeper Course Completion: Three-Semester Findings From an Experimental Study of Multiple Measures Assessment and Placement

By Dan Cullinan & Dorota Biedzio
Increasing Gatekeeper Course Completion: Three-Semester Findings From an Experimental Study of Multiple Measures Assessment and Placement

Colleges throughout the United States are evaluating the effectiveness of their strategies to place entering students into college-level or developmental education courses. Developmental, or remedial, courses are designed to advance the reading, writing, and math skills of students who are deemed academically underprepared for college-level courses. Placements have traditionally been determined through standardized placement testing; however, through evaluating additional types of placement tests, high school transcripts, and evaluations of student motivation, multiple measures assessments (MMAs) are becoming an increasingly popular tool to place students with greater nuance.

There is no single, correct way to design and implement a multiple measures assessment to improve course placements. Colleges must decide what measures to include, and how to combine them. This study, jointly conducted by MDRC and CCRC, was developed to add to the understanding of the implementation, cost, and efficacy of an MMA system using locally determined rules. As part of a randomized controlled trial, the study team evaluated MMA programs and observed 17,203 student performances across five colleges in Minnesota and Wisconsin over the course of the fall 2018, spring 2019, and fall 2019 semesters.

Across the five colleges in the random assignment study, about 15 percent of all students who were observed were placed in an alternative course level as a result of the implementation of multiple measures assessments. In this main analysis sample for whom MMA impacted their course placement, there were 1,814 students who had low test scores in English and 2,082 who had low test scores in math but who had strong high school grade point averages (GPAs) or noncognitive scores and were in the “bump-up zone.”

Regarding the qualitative findings over the three-semester period:

  • Program group students in the bump-up zone enrolled in more college-level courses than control group students (30.2 percentage points more in English and 19.2 percentage points more in math).
  • Students in the bump-up zone who were placed into college-level English were 16 percentage points more likely to have completed the course by the end of their third college semester than their control group counterparts.
  • Students in the bump-up zone who were placed into college-level math were 11 percentage points more likely to have completed the course by the end of their third college semester compared with their control group counterparts.
  • Overall, all subgroups of students benefited from multiple measures placement, and MMA generally has positive impact estimates on enrollment and completion of gatekeeper courses in English and math.
  • This implementation effort cost the colleges about $33 per student who went through the placement process during the three semesters of the study.

Associated Project(s)

Multiple Measures Assessment Project