Placement Tests Still Rule

Research released earlier this year found that commonly used placement tests fail to adequately determine whether incoming college students need remedial coursework. Yet most colleges rely exclusively on tests like the ACCUPLACER or COMPASS, according to a new study from the National Assessment Governing Board.

Only one in five colleges uses any criteria other than standardized testing — such as high school grades or class rank — to decide which students require coursework in remedial mathematics, the study found. And just 13 percent of colleges used other measures for placement in remedial English.

There is little national consensus on what constitutes college-ready. The new research found substantial variation in the remedial “cut scores” colleges’ use with the two popular placement tests, as well as for the use of the ACT and SAT to place students. Community colleges generally set a higher bar than do four-year institutions, according to the study, a result that surprised experts.

Roughly 1,560 colleges responded to the survey from the National Assessment Governing Board, which was conducted at the behest of the U.S. Department of Education and with help from Westat, a private research firm. The board oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which Congress created to measure student learning. The findings are based on remedial policies in place last fall.

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