Report: A New Look at the Role of Placement Exams

A new report from Jobs for the Future, an organization committed to doubling the number of low-income youth and adults who attain postsecondary credentials, claims that college placement tests should be considered high stakes, and examines the consequences of assigning students to non-credit, remedial coursework.

Where to Begin? The Evolving Role of Placement Exams for Students Starting College highlights ways that states and systems are approaching the use of placement exams, and suggests five key areas of reform and reconsideration as states look to improve policies and practices around placement exams:

  • Placement exams are high-stakes tests.
  • The effectiveness of traditional developmental education is unclear.
  • Accelerating some students through or out of developmental courses seems promising.
  • Placement exams are weak predictors of success in gateway courses.
  • Math and English assessments provide at best a narrow picture of a students’ readiness for college.

The authors also suggest three areas for possible innovation: downplaying the tests; changing the tests; and supporting students around tests. Within each area, strategies undertaken by states are described. For example, under “Supporting Students around Tests,” the authors state that some school systems have created policies that require 11th grade students to take college placement exams so that high schools can examine the results and provide additional preparation before students graduate high school.

The report closes with key questions for further research, such as “Do efforts to better prepare students and increase awareness of high-stakes nature of placement tests lead to higher scores and better predictive value?”

View the report here.

Kara Herbertson, Education Policy Analyst


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