Reassessing Developmental Education Placement

By Emily Rogan

Davidson County Community College is successfully using multiple measures beyond placement tests to determine if students need developmental education.

In 2011, policymakers for the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) enlisted the services of Columbia University’s Community College Research Center to find out whether tools other than high-stakes exams could be used to determine course placement for incoming students.

At the time, more than 65 percent of North Carolina community college students were being placed into at least one remedial course. National research has consistently shown that success outcomes for higher education students in developmental courses are lower than for students who immediately begin in college-level courses.

By fall 2016, NCCCS is requiring that all community colleges in the state use multiple measures to assess and place incoming students in either college-level or developmental courses.

Davidson County Community College (DCCC) is ahead of the game. The college was one of the first to adopt the new policy, in March 2013, with encouraging results to date.

Placement exams often act as barriers and don’t always determine ability, says Kevin Lineberry, dean of enrollment services at DCCC. Before making the switch to multiple-measures placement, “we didn’t have a body of evidence that suggested that students could be successful or that the placement tests were not the best indicator of student success.”

DCCC now has its own student-success data to prove that multiple-measures placement works.

Ending overreliance on high-stakes exams

The NCCCS multiple-measures policy uses the following hierarchy to qualify students for college-level classes:

  • Students with an unweighted high school GPA of 2.6 or higher who have completed four math courses (including one higher than Algebra 2) and four years of English can begin college-level courses.
  • Students without the necessary high school GPA and corresponding transcript who have ACT scores of 22 Reading, 18 English, 22 Math, or SAT scores of 500 each of Writing, Critical Reading and Math can begin college-level courses.
  • Students without the minimum GPA and appropriate high school transcript who also don’t have the minimum SAT/ACT scores or have been out of high school for over five years are required to take the Accuplacer placement test.

Additionally, students who have college credit from another institution may turn in their transcripts to the registrar for evaluation to potentially place out of developmental education, Lineberry says.

Despite some faculty concerns that the 2.6 GPA threshold was too low to indicate that students would be prepared for college-level classes, the results at DCCC have been overwhelmingly positive.

Since 2013, when DCCC adopted the new policy, students whose placement was based on their high school transcripts successfully completed their gateway courses at a higher rate than students placed in those courses based on other measures, according to DCCC data. In fact, 76 percent of students placed based on their transcripts completed the English course, compared with 59 percent of the other students; 65 percent of transcript students completed the math course, compared with 48 percent of the other students.

Since the multiple-measures policy was enacted, more than 1,500 DCCC students have been placed into college-level courses, bypassing developmental education, Lineberry says.

Many DCCC students who bypassed developmental education using the multiple-measures policy received academic support services simultaneously.

Other states, including California with its large number of community colleges, are moving to a multiple-measures model for course placement, Lineberry says.

Based on the early data from DCCC, it makes sense. “Student completion, graduation and success are the end goal,” says Lineberry. “The evidence is clear, so just do it.”

Emily Rogan

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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