Placed for Success  highlights how community colleges can improve accuracy of placement in English and math courses, reduce remediation rates, and improve student success. This practitioner-focused brief provides a succinct summary of research that casts doubt on the predictive power of standardized placement tests and suggests that using multiple measures — particularly high school GPA and grades — is more accurate for placing students into community college English and math courses.

— Improved Placement

How using multiple measures for math and English placement can reduce unnecessary remediation and increase student success

Traditionally, community colleges have used standardized placement tests to determine student readiness for college level coursework in math and English. More than two thirds of students in California have been assigned to one or more remedial courses using this method. However, recent national research shows high school GPA and course grades to be much better predictors of college success. In response, community colleges in California, and throughout the United States, have begun adapting evidence-based multiple measures criteria for math and English placement that increases placement accuracy, reduces unnecessary remediation and increases student success.


Click graphic to enlarge

The Career Ladders Project (CLP) has supported California Community Colleges’ adaptation and implementation of evidence based multiple measures for placement as part of several initiatives including the California Community College Linked Learning Initiative and several California Career Pathways Trust Grants. CLP has worked with the community college and college district leaders to make the case for adopting multiple measures for placement and worked with faculty to identify an evidence based set of criteria informed by national research, best practices, and local data. To ensure effective college and/or district wide implementation, CLP engages high school and community college administrators to ensure the seamless transfer of transcript data from high school districts, and works with the college and district staff to automate placement of students based on transcript data and ensure effective communication with training of counselors.

Why use Improved Placement?

Historically, standardized placement tests have been the primary basis for determining whether community college students are assigned to college-level or to remedial courses. Recent studies show that using a single standardized test, such as the ACCUPLACER or the COMPASS test, to make placement decisions leads to a high error rate in predicting whether a student can succeed in college-level courses. Several studies have found that GPA and grades in math and English courses had much higher utility compared with standardized tests in predicting college course success.

How to Improve placement:

Improving placement accuracy by utilizing high school GPA and course grades can remove a primary barrier to student completion. Additionally, as the graphic above demonstrates, it is a multi-step process that requires engaging different stakeholders.

The process involves:

(1) Engaging faculty, especially from the math and English departments to review national research and local data to identify evidence based criteria for placement;

(2) Facilitating conversations between high school district and community college or college district administrators to allow for a timely, smooth, and secure transfer of high school transcripts to the college for the purpose of placement;

(3) Engaging the Information Technology department to automate placement based on high school transcript records, so that counselors are not required to look at individual student transcript records;

(4) Engaging counselors in the implementation of multiple measures for placement;

(5) Working with the Institutional Research office to track student success and set up the data collection infrastructure for evaluation and continuous improvement of the placement criteria and process.