Rethinking placement tests

Colleges are rethinking placement exams, concludes a new Jobs for the Future report, Where to Begin? Researchers have found that placement exams have very high stakes and are weak predictors of college success. Furthermore, it’s not clear that developmental classes improve student outcomes. “Many students required to take remedial classes could have succeeded in college-level coursework,” recent studies suggest.

Math and English assessments provide at best a narrow picture of students’ readiness for college. Placement tests do not measure many of the skills needed for college success—including persistence, motivation, and critical thinking. And only some students need most of the assessed math skills.

Some colleges in New Jersey and California are relying less on placement test results and more on high school grades or other measures of college readiness.

Also being explored are practices such as mainstreaming students into college-level courses with extra support, basing placement on students’ academic goals, and allowing them to make their own placement decisions.

Florida and Virginia are aligning assessments to their curricula instead of using off-the-shelf tests. Texas hopes to develop a  diagnostic assessment to evaluate students’ strengths and weaknesses. In the future may be assessments of students’ cognitive strategies, such as critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as on-cognitive factors such as persistence and motivation.

Until recently, students were advised not to bother studying for college placement exams. Now high schools and colleges are trying to help students prepare for the tests.

In some high schools, juniors take college placement tests to provide an early warning of what college requires and chance to catch up in 12th grade. Community colleges also are trying to help prospective students brush up on math or English skills before they’re placed in developmental classes.


POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON August 1, 2012

Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Post a Comment

[…] Colleges are rethinking or rewriting placement tests to avoid starting students in dead-end remedial courses. Some high schools let juniors take a college placement exam to see what skills they’ll need to improve in 12th grade in order to avoid remedial placement. […]

[…] Success rates are very low in the traditional remedial sequence, which can take several semesters — or years — to complete. Recent research has criticized placement tests for overestimating students’ remedial needs and lowering their chances for success. […]

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