Have To Retake Algebra I? Bad Placement Tests May Be To Blame

Robert S. Donovan

On Monday the Nashua Telegraph published an article with some scary numbers: 78% of freshmen at Nashua Community College coming from Nashua public high schools require remedial coursework.  This is higher than the national community college remediation rate, which is close to 60% — and it doesn’t include those students who frequently require remediation because they’ve been out of school for a long time.   The Telegraph describes  efforts of district and college administrators to address the problem of college unpreparedness, mostly focusing on the quality of high school instruction.

While college unpreparedness is surely a legitimate concern, studies from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) show that high rates of remediation may have more to do with poor placement testing than poorly prepared students.  CCRC studies show that high school grades and GPAs more accurately predict college readiness than placement tests alone.  Large-scale simulations of placement testing revealed that “a quarter to a third of students assigned to remedial classes based on standardized test scores could have passed college-level classes with a grade of B or better.”

Studies also suggest that remedial classes aren’t getting anyone ahead – even those students who aren’t prepared for college level coursework. Perhaps because re-taking middle and high school level classes is so discouraging for a student’s morale, only 10% of remedial students graduate from community college within three years.  Additionally, remedial classes increase the cost and length of college education, because remediation credits don’t count toward graduation. The cost of remediation to schools is estimated at around $2.5 billion dollars annually, nationwide.

One study showed that supplementing college-level courses with concurrent supporting classes was a less expensive and more effective way to assist underprepared students than remediation, allowing students to earn credits toward graduation upon registration. Just this month, Connecticut’s governor Dannell Malloy signed into a law a bill that would do away with remedial coursework altogether in that state, instead implementing the concurrent classes supported by research from the CCRC.


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