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Community College Placement Tests: ‘Mismatch Between Interventions and Assessments’

While over half of community college students enroll in at least one remedial course, a recent study finds little correlation between postsecondary remediation and increased student outcomes. In the working paper, Assessing Developmental Assessment in Community Colleges, researchers from Teachers College at Columbia University examine the role of assessment and placement within community colleges. They recommend that states and community colleges reform the remediation process by taking a closer look at the placement tests that land students in remedial coursework in the first place.

The authors found a trend towards state standardization of assessments and mandatory enrollment in remedial courses if placed, but remarked that “While standardization of an effective strategy may improve student outcomes, standardization of an ineffective strategy may worsen them.”

According to the paper, 92 percent of 2-year colleges administer assessments to determine whether remedial coursework is needed, most using the ACCUPLACER and/or COMPASS exams. While studies find both tests fairly valid measures of predicting students’ math, reading, and writing grades, they also find that the resulting placement recommendations do not seem to improve student outcomes. As noted by the authors, “This suggests a mismatch between interventions and assessments.”

The researchers suggest using a more comprehensive assessment (or multiple assessments) including academic, diagnostic, and affective measures, to better place students and to improve student outcomes.

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