Columbia Study Questions Accuracy Of Community College Placement Tests

February 14th, 2011

Assessing Developmental Assessment in Community Colleges (CCRC Working Paper No. 19, Assessment of Evidence Series)

By: Katherine L. Hughes & Judith Scott-Clayton — February 2011. New York: Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University

Placement exams are high-stakes assessments that determine many students’ college trajectories. The majority of community colleges use placement exams—most often the ACCUPLACER, developed by the College Board, or the COMPASS, developed by ACT, Inc.—to sort students into college-level or developmental education courses in math, reading, and sometimes writing. More than half of entering students at community colleges are placed into developmental education in at least one subject as a result. But the evidence on the predictive validity of these tests is not as strong as many might assume, given the stakes involved—and recent research fails to find evidence that the resulting placements into remediation improve student outcomes.

While this has spurred debate about the content and delivery of remedial coursework, it is possible that the assessment process itself may be broken; the debate about remediation policy is incomplete without a fuller understanding of the role of assessment. This paper examines the extent of consensus regarding the role of developmental assessment and how it is best implemented, the validity of the most common assessments currently in use, and emerging directions in assessment policy and practice. Alternative methods of assessment—particularly those involving multiple measures of student preparedness—seem to have the potential to improve student outcomes, but more research is needed to determine what type of change in assessment and placement policy might improve persistence and graduation rates. The paper concludes with a discussion of gaps in the literature and implications for policy and research.

–Download this paper by clicking on the PDF icon below. A summary version, CCRC Brief No. 50, is also available for download.

» An introduction to the Assessment of Evidence Series

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