Relevant Findings on College Placement Testing Policies
When Jibril Solomon began his doctoral program in educational studies, he had his topic already in mind: he was interested in college and career readiness in Massachusetts. His focus was to examine whether policies for assessing readiness already in place in Massachusetts were being implemented in a consistent way across the state higher education system. In 1998, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education had adopted an assessment policy that set standards for college placement testing at public colleges and universities. More recently, a 2013 Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education working definition of college and career readiness describes students as ready if they can "demonstrate the knowledge, skills and abilities that are necessary to successfully complete the entry-level, credit-bearing college courses, participate in certificate or workplace training programs, and enter economically viable career pathways." The two essential competencies were learning and workplace readiness. How college and career readiness are assessed, and those results are applied, was to become the focus of Jibril's research. He began at the John F. Kennedy Library and the Library of Congress, doing historical research that uncovered school readiness policies that went back to the 1890s. Two concepts of college readiness at that time were inquiry and vocational training—which look very much like the proposed 2013 MA competencies listed above. As stated in Jibril's dissertation, two thirds of today's Massachusetts high school graduates enroll in some type of post-secondary education right after high school. How accurately they get assessed for college and career preparedness for that education is a matter of concern. Are the assessment results interpreted the same across schools? Are remedial courses, which do not result in credits earned but cost the same as courses that do, being required more often of students who can least afford them? Does participation in a remedial course predict a student's dropping out of college? In terms of the accuracy of the Massachusetts college placement assessment system, there was limited research. Jibril set out to add to what was already there. Below is an abstract of his research on Massachusetts public four-year institutions.
College Readiness Policy Implementation in the Massachusetts Public Higher Education SystemFrom Policy to Practice: An Analysis of the Implementation of the State College Placement Testing (CPT) Policies at the Four Year Institutions
In 1998, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, with assistance from the Developmental Assessment and Placement Advisory Committee, adopted an assessment policy that set standards for college placement testing at Massachusetts public colleges and universities. The purposes of the policy were to place students more adequately suited for college remedial coursework at the state colleges and to ensure compatibility and comparability of implementation across all the public campuses. Limited research exists on the accuracy of the implementation of college placement assessments. Prior research focused on the ethical dilemmas associated with mandatory placement. This research investigated how the Massachusetts public four-year institutions implement the college placement testing policies. This study addresses the knowledge-building about implementation by asking the following questions: What is being implemented, why, for whom and how do campus histories, cultures, demographics and practitioner buy-in shape what gets implemented?The role of college readiness assessment and placement is high-stakes because placement in remedial courses serves as gatekeepers to students’ abilities to access college credit-bearing coursework. Remedial courses do not count towards graduation, are not transferrable, and charge same tuition rates as credit-bearing ones. Students placed in remedial education programs experience higher college dropout rates than their counterparts.A mixed methods design this study surveyed college assessment administrators, and found that while seventy-three percent of the colleges implement the state’s policy, there is a plethora of incongruities in the ways implementation occurs (i.e., in mathematics, fifty-four percent used different elementary algebra cut-off scores; in English, sixty-nine percent test writing differently). Results from the survey showed that current assessment experiences and outcomes of first-time first-year students are inconsistent. Students entering different Massachusetts public four-year campuses are receiving varying and sometimes conflicting signals about their college readiness competencies and remedial placement outcomes. The findings call attention to disconnections that exist between policy and practice in the state assessment system and recommend the state (a) rethink how to use new assessments to develop a system capable of supporting students through the K-12 through higher education pipeline; and (b) gather more information about how to evaluate its remedial programs’ benefits and costs.
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