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Study: Failing a Placement Exam Does Not Discourage College Enrollment

Corrected

Despite high school efforts to ramp up college readiness, many students graduate unprepared for college-level work. Nearly 1 in 3 students are required to take remedial courses (also known as developmental education) their freshman year to catch up.

A new study shows that when students do poorly on college-placement exams and learn they must take a remedial course, they are no less likely to enroll in college than students who score just above the remediation placement cutoff.

The findings are published in an article in the latest issue of Education and Finance Policy, the official journal of the Association for Education and Finance.

Co-author Paco Martorell, an assistant professor of education at the University of California-Davis, said it's hard to tell just why students aren't discouraged after finding out they aren't college ready, but it may be that they don't fully understand the implication. [Corrected Feb. 4: The three co-authors of the study are Martorell, Isaac McFarlin, Jr., and Yu Xue.]

"It might be that they just really don't know the difference between college-level and remedial courses," said Martorell in a phone interview. "Sometimes students are so interested in getting a degree that it is not is much of hindrance."

Less than one quarter of students who enroll in developmental education graduate within eight years, according to research from the Community College Research Center in New York.

This research looks narrowly at the question of likely enrollment, not whether students are placed appropriately or if developmental education is effective. Although students are not dissuaded from enrolling even after failing a placement test, Martorell suggests reforms are still needed to improve remedial instruction and student outcomes.

To address the problem, high schools in some states are offering college-placement tests during students' junior year to assess their readiness and offer remedial transition courses before they  graduate.

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