Test-only placement systems are associated with inaccurate placement determinations that can perpetuate college achievement gaps by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status (SES). In response to the pitfalls of traditional, test-only placement systems, colleges across the country are increasingly experimenting with and adopting alternative placement strategies that reduce the number of students assigned to prerequisite developmental education and increase access to college-level courses. These reforms benefit underserved students but by themselves are not enough to eradicate long-standing disparities by race/ethnicity and SES in outcomes such as introductory college-level (or gateway) course completion and credential attainment. For placement reform to be both effective and equitable, it is best coupled with additional related reforms, including improvements to curriculum, instruction, and student supports.
Aimed at practitioners, this brief provides guidance to institutions seeking to design and implement placement systems that redress limitations of test-only systems and that work in conjunction with other reforms to generate more equitable outcomes. It draws on research literature as well as examples from the field to highlight promising strategies for addressing barriers to equitable access to and success in college-level courses, including barriers that may persist after broad placement reform has been implemented.