Rethinking Community College Placement Tests

By Catherine Groux
Posted June 26, 2012 02:20 PM

Some schools are rethinking placement tests for remedial courses.
Some schools are rethinking placement tests for remedial courses.
Today, many students who apply to a community college to earn their associate's degree must first take a placement test. This exam is designed to gauge how college ready students are and whether they must take remedial courses. However, as some individuals simply lack adequate test-taking skills, various colleges and organizations feel too many students are being placed into remedial courses they do not need based solely on poor placement test scores.

Too Many Students Take Remedial Courses

In February, the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College released two studies showing too many community college students are being placed in remedial course they do not need, Inside Higher Ed reports. Questioning the value of the COMPASS and ACCUPLACER, two popular standardized placement exams, the studies show that up to one-third of students who were forced to take remedial classes based on these tests could have passed college courses with a B average or better.

One of the biggest problems with placing students in remedial courses they do not need is that the extra time and tuition they cost can discourage them from earning an associate's degree.

"We're concerned about the additional costs of time and tuition these students may be taking on unnecessarily," Judith Scott-Clayton, author of the Columbia study, told the Los Angeles Times. "But in addition, many students may get discouraged and say 'forget it.'"

Colleges Try to Make a Change

As the use of placement tests to determine whether students need remedial courses has come under fire, some colleges are experimenting with other methods. California's Long Beach City College, for example, recently began evaluating students based on their high school grades rather than placement test scores, the Times reports. Currently, California law demands schools use multiple factors to see which courses students should take. However, placement tests are the primary tool used to pinpoint which individuals need remedial work.

Now, given Long Beach's trial, the state's office of community colleges chancellor is conducting a study to see whether students' high school GPA and grades should be used to make placement decisions.

Across the country, other states have already made changes to their remedial programs, the Times reports. For instance, last month, Connecticut passed a law that states that remedial education will be replaced by supplemental support and college-readiness programs.

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