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Modernizing College Course Placement by Using Multiple Measures

Modernizing College Course Placement by Using Multiple Measures

Colleges have traditionally placed students into developmental courses based on their performance on standardized tests. But research shows these placement tests are poor predictors of students' success in college-level classes, and as many as one-in-three test takers is placed incorrectly. Most of the misplaced students are assigned to developmental courses that are below their ability and whose credits do not count toward a degree. As a result, these students encounter an unnecessary hurdle on their path to graduation and their progress is potentially blocked altogether. 

Meanwhile, studies have found that alternative measures such as high school GPA are significantly better predictors of which students will succeed in college-level courses. Combining high school GPA with other measures including state graduation tests, writing assessments, and noncognitive assessments yields more predictive power, according to the studies. This approach, often called multiple measures placement, is gaining traction at colleges across the country, and more than half of community colleges use measures other than standardized tests to assess academic readiness.

This brief, which describes the evidence for multiple measures placement and offers an overview of the types of multiple measures placement systems used across the country, is the third in a series produced in conjunction with the Education Commission of the States. The first installment is Developmental Education: An Introductory for Policymakers. The second is Math Pathways: Expanding Options for Success in College Math.