College Placement Reforms

Belfield, Clive & Crosta, Peter. (2012). Predicting Success in College: The Importance of Placement Tests and High School Transcripts. Community College Research Center.
This research looks at the correlation between placement tests for developmental education (ACCUPLACER and COMPASS) and high school academic indicators with subsequent college outcomes.  Researchers analyzed student data from an unnamed statewide community college system that included students enrolled in fall 2008 through summer 2010. They found that traditional placement tests are weakly correlated with college GPA, and that high school GPA has a stronger relationship with both college GPA and college-credit accumulation.  Researchers also look at placement “errors” of traditional placement tests and found that as many as 3 out of 10 students are placed in remediation incorrectly by traditional placement tests.

Burdman, Pamela. (2012). Where to Begin? The Evolving Role of Placement Exams for Students Starting College. Achieving the Dream.
This report for Achieving the Dream outlines lessons and efforts from participating colleges around new directions for efforts to determine college readiness for incoming students.  It includes an overview of research demonstrating the flaws in the current system of high-stakes placement tests and describes emerging or evidence-based alternatives to traditional testing and placement.

Scott-Clayton, Judith, et al. (2012). Improving the Targeting of Treatment: Evidence from College Remediation. National Bureau of Economic Research.
This working paper looks at the accuracy of developmental education placement tests.  The findings suggest that, as they are currently used, placement tests do a poor job of predicting whether or not students are ready for college-level math or English.  Using data on a large, urban community college system and a statewide system of 50+ community colleges researchers evaluated “severe error rates” for first-time students in the study.  A severe error rate is categorized as a student who is placed in developmental education when they could earn a “B” or better in college level, or a student placed in college-level course who fails.  Their research indicates that the available information on a student’s high school transcript is equal to or better than the current use of placement tests.