Consider the cut score, that all-encompassing, essential number that determines the future of legions of community college students.
Score above the cut score on a standardized placement test and proceed to college-level course work, greatly enhancing the chances of eventually earning a college degree.
Earn a score below the cut line and get a ticket to one or more developmental courses, a place sometimes dubbed the Bermuda Triangle of higher education — the place where students go in, but never come out. Only a tiny percentage of students who take remedial courses ever finish college.
That high-stakes nature of placement tests employed by community colleges across the country is among the factors driving a fundamental re-examination of the exams, raising questions about whether they create a serious impediment to the college completion agenda.
An emerging body of research indicates that standardized placement tests are poor predictors of college success and that a student’s high school transcript does a far better job of telling a college where a beginning student belongs.
That hypothesis is now being tested by Long Beach City College in California, which just admitted a cohort of nearly 1,000 students whose placements were determined not by a placement test, but by their high school grades.
“I don’t think that tests are the evil here,” said college President Eloy Oakley. “The way we have used the tests are the problem. We have leaned on the placement tests almost totally to place students. I don’t think you can rely just on a test to judge a student’s capacity to succeed.” (Read more.)