Grades trump placement tests in Long Beach

Prompted by research questioning the reliability of placement tests, Long Beach City College will use high school grades to decide whether students need remedial classes, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Edward Yacuta felt rushed and nervous when he took a test to determine whether he was ready for college-level English classes at Long Beach City College.

The 18-year-old did poorly on the exam, even though he was getting good grades in an Advanced Placement English class at Long Beach’s Robert A. Millikan High School.

Most community colleges would assign students like Yacuta to a remedial class, but he will avoid that fate at Long Beach. The two-year school is trying out a new system this fall that will place students who graduated from the city’s high schools in courses based on their grades rather than their scores on the standardized placement tests.

About 85 percent of new community college students in California place into remedial English and 73 percent into remedial math. Two-thirds of remedial students will not earn an associate degree or transfer to a four-year university.

Long Beach City College discovered 60 percent of students placed in remedial English classes had earned an A or B in high school English, while 35 percent of those who tested into college-level English had earned a C or D in high school.

California law requires the use of multiple criteria — such as test scores, study skills, educational background and goals — to determine which classes to place students in. But the placement test is the primary tool, and transcripts and grade point averages are not widely used.

In response to the Long Beach initiative and research, the office of California’s community colleges chancellor is conducting a statewide study to determine whether high school transcripts and grade point averages should be incorporated into placement decisions at the state’s 112 two-year colleges.

Starting new students at the college level wouldn’t just raise success rates, said Sonia Ortiz-Mercado, dean of matriculation and early assessment in the chancellor’s office. “At a time when the colleges are financially strapped and course capacity is limited, being able to get them through quicker is important.”

Long Beach Unified typically sends 1,400 graduates to the city college: Only 170 place into college English and 130 into college math. That will rise to 800 in college English and 450 in college math when grades are taking into account, the college predicts. It’s estimated the average student will save a semester and a half of remedial coursework.

On Dev Math Revival, Jack Rotman proposes using grades and placement tests to identify students who can start in college-level courses with “just-in-time” remedial help. Other students may need a semester to develop academic and study skills or a full year of intensive, linked courses in reading, writing, math and learning skills.


POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON July 16, 2012

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