March 2016

Getting Rid of Placement Exams

The Atlantic
Getting Rid of Placement Exams

In this article, Mikhail Zinshteyn quotes Pamela Burdman discussing the high-stakes nature of placement exams and the tens of thousands of California community college students that were being placed into remedial math courses they might not need. Colleges are shifting away from relying on placement exams to determine which students need remedial math and English courses.

Do tests or high-school grades better determine whether a student is ready for college-level math and reading? For public universities and community colleges, increasingly the answer is both—or no tests at all, reporters learned during a seminar hosted by the Education Writers Association in Los Angeles last month.

Several states have undertaken a series of changes that allow students to prove they’re prepared for college courses by showcasing the work they’ve done in high school, such as grade point averages and scores on statewide standardized assessments they already take during high school. That’s a shift away from the current standard many colleges use—requiring incoming students to take placement tests to determine whether they need to be enrolled in developmental math or English.

This pivot away from relying on college-placement tests is significant because a growing body of research suggests students are less likely to complete their degrees if colleges enroll them in even one developmental, or remedial, class. Nationally, 42 percent of incoming college students are referred to remedial courses; the percentages are even higher for black, Latino, poor, and community-college students. Just one-tenth of students who start college in remedial courses ever earn a degree a report by Complete College America calculated in 2014. “It’s a high-school class for which you will pay college prices,” Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King recently said at a gathering of mayors in Washington, D.C. “We know that students taking those remedial classes are dramatically less likely to finish.”

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