Schools Taking New Approach to Course Placement

A new movement across college campuses is emerging to rethink – and revise – the single test, single cut score approach that places new college students into remedial or credit-level courses.  Several state systems and institutions are beginning to use additional indicators to gauge a student’s college readiness. Studies show that taking into account multiple measures could be a more accurate way for students to succeed in college-level courses, and reduce the chance they will be placed in remedial courses.

Recent studies from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) found that a student’s high school GPA is often a better indicator of future college level performance rather than only using their standardized test scores (such as the SAT or ACT) or general placement exam scores.  Prior to using multiple measures, North Carolina released a report prepared by the CCRC, that revealed nearly one third of its students were being severely misplaced, resulting in significant costs to both students and the system.  With these findings, the state of North Carolina established a system, based on a hierarchy, that first looked at students’ high school GPA when considering placement.

At least 15 states and college systems now incorporate multiple measures to determine a student’s initial course placement.  These measures include GPA, high school English and math grades, diagnostics exams, previous college courses, and student self-placement.  In Ohio, the placement policy allows campuses to look at writing assessments, high school GPA, and other indicators­ – such as previous college coursework.  Hawaii is experimenting with using grades in specific high school courses as an indicator on whether or not students are placed into credit-bearing courses.

North Carolina and California’s community colleges and most schools in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Texas have recently required the use of multiple measures for course placement.  Although many states still use single standardized testing to determine placement, research has shown the move toward multiple measures could lead to fewer students being directed toward remediation and far more completing their degree.

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