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Community College Placement Tests Can Serve Students Well

With community colleges increasingly seen as an educational bargain, it's worthwhile taking a closer look at Accuplacer ("How a Little-Known Standardized Test Harms Community College Students," Washington Monthly, Apr. 17).  This obscure standardized test by the College Board consists of multiple-choice items in math and English that determine if students belong in remedial classes.

The argument against its use is that GPAs are a better indication of readiness.  This view is supported by the National Center for Education Statistics, which found that nearly half of community college students who were strongly prepared wound up in remediation. Funneling so many into remedial classes increased their risk of dropping out since the courses do not count toward graduation.

I have serious doubts about the disproportionate emphasis on any standardized test to determine placement, but I think there's another side of the story that warrants consideration.  Aren't low-scoring students better served by giving them the help they need before they take credit-granting courses?  There's nothing more damaging to the self-confidence of students than placing them in credit-counting courses based on their high school GPAs and then letting them find out they are in over their heads.

Although Accuplacer is hardly perfect, I think it still serves a valuable purpose in community colleges. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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