Colleges rely heavily on placement exams

Most colleges use placement tests alone — usually ACCUPLACER or COMPASS — to determine whether students start in remedial or college-level courses, despite concerns about inaccurate placement, according to a National Assessment Governing Board study. Only a small minority of colleges use high school grades, class rank or other criteria to determine placement.

Colleges don’t agree on what cut scores indicate college readiness, writes Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed. Community colleges typically require a higher score than four-year colleges and universities.

Half of all undergraduates and 70 percent of community college students take at least one remedial course. Most will not go on to complete a credential. Some reformers think remedial courses — not poor preparation — are the problem.

Many students are placed unnecessarily in remedial courses, according to several Community College Research Center studies.

For example, among two large samples of community college students who were deemed to have remedial needs based on standardized placement tests, up to a third could have passed college-level classes with a grade of B or better. (Companies that produce the tests have defended them in response to the studies and resulting criticism.)

The research also found that high school GPAs are better predictors of student success than placement tests.

However, grades may not say much about the many community college students who’ve been out of school for years. At the Community College of Baltimore County, for example, the median age is 28. Instead of evaluating high school transcripts, CCBC provides pre-test workshops and practice exams to help new students do well on the placement tests.


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