Community colleges dropped test scores for class placements amid pandemic: report

Dive Brief: 

  • The pandemic forced several community college systems to move away from solely using standardized tests to determine whether students need developmental education, explains a new report from the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness. 

  • CAPR researchers looked at community colleges in four states that used multiple measures systems — which include two or more indicators such as GPA, soft skills assessments and test scores — to place students into the appropriate math and English classes. 

  • Community college systems and state higher education boards can help schools adopt new placement practices, the researchers suggested. 

Dive Insight:

Many community colleges have been using a variety of other measures as a growing body of research reveals that standardized testing alone frequently misplaces students in developmental courses. That creates serious consequences for learners, who may experience graduation delays or burn up their financial aid. 

As standardized testing became impracticable during the pandemic, community colleges in several states seized the opportunity to find or expand their use of different ways to place students. In some cases, higher education systems helped colleges quickly adopt new practices, the researchers wrote. 

The Virginia Community College System, for instance, waived a policy last spring requiring class placements to be based on at least one standardized test. In place of that policy, the system guided schools on using students’ high school GPA and information about courses they’d previously taken. It also provided questionnaires so nontraditional students could place themselves. 

Meanwhile, Ivy Tech Community College, in Indiana, scaled a knowledge assessment tool called EdReady across its 45 campuses. Students can complete the assessment to determine their class placements, or they can receive personalized learning assignments through the EdReady platform to gain access to a higher-level course. 

Testing these new approaches is also important, the researchers wrote. 

In Texas, a policy requiring all college students to take state-approved assessments for course placements was waived through the 2021-22 academic year for those who couldn’t take them. During this period, the state’s higher education board is tracking colleges’ alternative placement methods and examining how they impact student outcomes. 

Some states moved away from using only standardized testing long before the pandemic. As of 2018, two in five states used multiple measure systems, according to the Education Commission of the States. 

This method may prove better for students. In a 2020 study from CAPR, a system that used measures including high school GPA and test scores placed 80% of students in college-level English. Standardized testing alone placed only 46% into a credit-bearing class. Students slotted into the higher-level courses were also more likely to complete college-level English within three semesters than those who weren’t.


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