Traditionally, the majority of public two-year and four-year colleges have relied solely on standardized tests to assess students’ college readiness in math and English language skills. Numerous studies, however, have questioned the validity of this approach, noting that up to one third of students placed in developmental education on the basis of standardized test results would have been successful in college-level classes, and that other indicators of college readiness, such as high school performance, provide a more accurate measure of college success.
This argument has gained traction in recent years among public two-year institutions. In a 2011 survey, all public two-year institutions reported using a standardized mathematics test to place students into college-level math courses; only 27 percent reported using at least one other criterion, such as high school grade point average or other high school outcomes. Just five years later, 57 percent of public two-year institutions reported using multiple measures for math placement.
In 2011, 94 percent of public two-year institutions reported using a standardized test for college-level placement in reading, and only 19 percent reported using at least one other criterion. In 2016, 51 percent reported using multiple measures for reading and writing placement.
Judged to be academically underprepared, millions of students must take developmental education in college, and more than half never make it through or graduate. Experts argue that there are two main problems: Too many students are being placed unnecessarily into developmental courses, and the structure and traditional instructional practices in developmental education can pose barriers to student success.