Most community colleges and many four-year institutions use standardized placement tests to determine if students are ready for college-level courses or need remedial help to catch up. But a new study found that combining the test results with high school GPA and other measures—called multiple measures assessment—allowed more students to go straight into college-level courses, and researchers found that those students did better than similar students left behind.

The students bumped up into college-level courses using multiple measures assessment were able to complete college-level English and math courses at substantially higher rates than similar students in the control group who had to start in developmental, or remedial, courses. In fact, even students predicted by a multiple measures algorithm to need developmental courses did better as a group when allowed to start in college-level courses, the study found.

“We recommend that colleges default to placing students into college-level courses when they’re on the fence about whether or not they’re ready,” said Elisabeth Barnett, a senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center, which leads CAPR along with the independent research organization MDRC. “Our study adds to the evidence for putting a broader swath of community college students in college-level math and English.”

Nationally, about two-thirds of community college students take at least one developmental course. Earlier CCRC research found placement tests are inaccurate and place too many students into developmental courses, costing them money and slowing their progress to a degree. Moreover, many students who begin college by taking developmental coursework never complete a college credential. Across the country, colleges are working to develop different strategies for helping students who may have difficulty with college-level work, such as corequisite courses and math pathways.

Read the full article about propelling students into college-level courses by Elizabeth Ganga and John Hutchins at MDRC.