Rethinking placement tests

Colleges are rethinking or rewriting placement tests to avoid starting students in dead-end remedial courses. Some high schools let juniors take a college placement exam to see what skills they’ll need to improve in 12th grade in order to avoid remedial placement.

Maryland is “accelerating” remediation to get students quickly into college-level, for-credit classes.

About Joanne


  1. Ummm, I’m NOT the sharpest tool in the shed, but WHAT exactly do you do with students who cannot handle a standard placement exam which tests skills one should have obtained at the high school level in english and math (usually), that any student who had successfully mastered Algebra I, Geometry (analytical), Algebra II/Trig should have no problem doing, along with English I and II, American/European/World Lit, and perhaps Composition?

    An excerpt from the article:

    Researchers have found that placement exams have very high stakes and are weak predictors of college success.

    Ummm, if students are NOT ready for college level coursework, it’s GOING to show up if they’re placed into English 101 or Finite Math/Stats/Pre-calc…

    Unless we want to continue the watering down of college degrees (which these days are approximately what a high school diploma was in the 1950’s and 1960’s).


    • Mark Roulo says:

      You let them enroll in the non-remedial class and if they flunk then they flunk.

      What is the problem?

  2. Actually,

    I have no problem with that, but statistically, students who are lacking the skills to handle first semester college level english/math will wind up dropping out inside of a year (or less) when they’ve managed to rack up a bunch of coursework which doesn’t apply to their major or allows them progress towards a degree or certificate.

    IMO, a better method would be to simply NOT admit these students in the first place (I know that CC’s and JC’s have lower admission standards, than four year institutions, but at least the student would know up front they don’t have what it takes to survive the first year of college life).


    • tim-10-ber says:

      Coursework, yes. But the also rack up student loans…

    • Why not have HS kids take standardized tests (even in-school practice tests) like SSAT/SAT/ACT/ASVAB/civil service exams etc early in HS, so they know where they stand while they still have time to try and fix things? It’s not as if there aren’t tons of prep materials available (probably for vo tech as well). I’m with Bill about colleges (2 or 4 yr) not admitting kids unlikely to succeed and I’d also not offer gov’t funded/backed grants and loans to them. Kids aren’t totally stupid, but they need to be told, from K entry, that they are expected to put in real effort and make real benchmarks to advance. What we’re doing now is fraud; pretending that the k-12 coursework and grades reflect actual achievement. They go on to “college” , fail and accumulate debt they can’t repay. It won’t really change without serious pressure, though, because of the demographics.

  3. Momof4,

    You’re quite correct…Here is a reality check, most colleges (4 year) require a composite ACT score of 21 (or higher) to even be considered for admission…by that rationale, a student in 11th grade who takes the ACT and scores less than 21 (composite) and their english/math score is < 21 should be told up front…you'll need to improve your math/english skills (regardless of what they have for a GPA in the two subjects) before you should consider applying to a college or university.

    Students should also be given information starting in 9th grade about the student loan situation, and the actual number of students who manage to graduate with a certificate/associate's degree or bachelor's degree. It might shock them to know that student loan debt is higher than credit card debt, and that the average bachelor's degree holder who graduated in the last two years has anywhere from 20 to 25 thousand in student loan debt (never mind other loans/credit cards, etc).

    There have been some stories posted where some persons in their 50's who went back and got a degree aren't going to be able to earn enough to ever pay off the loan (sad commentary on the cost of higher education, IMO).


    • Mark Roulo says:

      “Here is a reality check, most colleges (4 year) require a composite ACT score of 21 (or higher) to even be considered for admission…”

      I think you are mistaken.

      This page includes a table of ACT scores for the middle 50% of enrolled students at various Cal State campuses:


      Note that at most campuses, the ACT score of the bottom of the middle 50% (so the students at the 25th percent from the bottom) is below 21.

      In fact, there are only two campuses at 21 and only one campus (Cal Poly) above 25.

      So about 25% of the students (with an ACT score) at a Cal State scored below 21.

      The SAT scores aren’t any better:


      And there are *lots* of four year schools worse than the Cal State campuses.

  4. If you’re looking at only california, yes…I’m talking about the US as a whole (since the average ACT score has lumbered between 21-23 for many years now).

    However, some colleges have a sliding slope for ACT/SAT vs. GPA on admission, but my concern is where the grades just don’t match the result on the placement exams.

    That to me smacks of grade inflation, or a complete lack of preparation for the exam in question (having taken many certification exams in my life, and I’ve failed one or two on occasion, it was due to a lack or preparation, rather than not knowing the material).

    Also, how many students in middle or high school are actually taught test taking tactics and skills, since that can wind up making a huge difference in the final score?