Improving Developmental Education Assessment and Placement: Lessons From Community Colleges Across the Country
At open-access two-year public colleges, the goal of the traditional assessment and placement process is to match incoming students to the developmental or college-level courses for which they have adequate preparation; the process presumably increases underprepared students’ chances of short- and long-term success in college while maintaining the academic quality and rigor of college-level courses. However, the traditional process may be limited in its ability to achieve these aims due to poor course placement accuracy and inconsistent standards of college readiness. To understand current approaches that seek to improve the process, we conducted a scan of assessment and placement policies and practices at open-access two-year colleges in Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. We describe the variety of approaches that systems and colleges employed to ameliorate poor course placement accuracy and inconsistent standards associated with the traditional process. Taking a broad view of the extent of these approaches, we find that most colleges we studied adopted a measured approach that addressed a single limitation without attending to other limitations that contribute to the same overall problem of poor course placement accuracy or inconsistent standards. Much less common were comprehensive approaches that attended to multiple limitations of the process; these approaches were likely to result from changes to developmental education as a whole. Drawing from the study’s findings, we also discuss how colleges can overcome barriers to reform in order to implement approaches that hold promise for improved course placement accuracy, more consistent standards of college readiness, and, potentially, greater long-term academic success of community college students.
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