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Most Colleges Rely Solely on Tests for Placement

Despite research questioning the merit of standardized tests to determine readiness for college-level classes, a new study on placement finds most institutions continue to use the tests but scores considered college-ready vary.

The National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees and sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, recently reviewed postsecondary education institutions' use of tests and cut scores in college placement in the fall of 2011 at both public and private colleges.

It discovered heavy reliance on the tests by most schools. Criteria other than college admissions and placement tests (such as high school grades or class rank) were used by 21 percent of institutions evaluating student need for remedial math and 13 percent of those evaluating reading skills. Research published earlier this year finds high school GPA is a better predictor of college performance than traditional placement tests.

Results from six tests were most commonly used to determine placement in math and reading: ACT, SAT, COMPASS, ACCUPLACER and ASSET. The report notes that the variability in cut scores was appreciable, suggesting that postsecondary education institutions across the nation do not hold a single, common conception of "just academically prepared."

The implications of this proposition are great, for individuals, families, and the nation, the report notes. Without clarity around what entry-level academic requirements are at colleges, students who graduate from high school can unexpectedly find themselves placed into remedial, noncredit courses, facing the added costs of money and time.

The report was based on a survey sample of approximately 1,670 Title IV postsecondary education institutions drawn from the 2009-10 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
It included two-year and four-year degree-granting institutions in the 50 states and the District of Columbia that offer at least an undergraduate degree.

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