Tests place most students in remedial rut

Most new community college students start in remedial classes — and most don’t get far. Placement tests put too many students in a remedial rut, say researchers, who want colleges to look at students’ high school grades.

High school test scores predict first-year community college performance, concludes a California study. But high-scoring Latinos and blacks are less likely to take college-level courses than low-scoring whites and Asians. 

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  1. I’m not convinced that high school grades are a reliable proxy to determine whether students should escape the remedial treadmill, at least when it comes to math classes. If I had a dollar for every poorly-performing student who protested a disappointing score with “But I got As in XYZ in high school…,” I’d have a nice nest egg.

    Our CC takes what I think is a reasonable approach: if a student scores poorly on a placement test, he can retake the test within a certain time frame. I don’t recall the exact length, but it’s a week or something like that – the premise being that if the student was merely “rusty,” he’d have a chance to brush up on the things he missed. If the subsequent test score makes the cutoff, then the student can escape the remedial treadmill. I think this policy tends to eliminate the “I really know it, I just forgot it” excuse.

    Of course there are still some who don’t have to take remedial classes by dint of their scores on the placement test who still struggle with freshman math classes like algebra, trig, or calc, but then that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax, isn’t it?

    • I agree, there was a time more than a quarter century ago when teachers assigned honest grades and students abilities matched the grades. The problem is where students get A’s and B’s in algebra II/Trig (usually taken as a junior or senior in most areas) but are unable to do well enough on a placement exam to handle middle school math (which indicates grade inflation to me).

      In life, one is always tested. What happens when these students run into a licensing exam, certification exam, etc…most of those are graded pass/fail (i.e. – you either actually KNOW the material, or you DON’T), the exam doesn’t care how you feel about yourself, btw.

  2. High school grades? They’re worthless. I can count hundreds of occasions of principals forcing teachers to inflate grades wildly just to keep their jobs over the years… And that’s not counting the general grade inflation, due to self-preservation, parents’ pressure, etc. on the teacher’s parts…