"Informed Self-Placement" At American River
A Case Study
Placement tests in mathematics and English Language Arts represent the de facto math and English standards at community colleges. Students take math and English placement tests when they arrive on campus to help them find courses that match their skill levels. The math tests assess students’ skills in pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, and other subjects. In English, reading comprehension and vocabulary questions comprise the test. Placement tests help counselors and instructors determine which courses new students should take.
The placement process at community colleges is critical for several reasons. Community colleges are open-access institutions that serve a heterogeneous student population. Students range from high school dropouts to high school graduates to adults returning to pursue a college degree. Students are not required to apply and some come without high school transcripts, so community colleges need a way to measure their abilities. Placement tests play the essential role of sorting these students into classes. For students, placement is a high stakes test that can impact their college outcomes. Students starting at the lowest developmental courses have the furthest to go to be ready for transfer to a four-year college or to earn an associate’s degree. Nearly 90% of students starting in a developmental course never pass a transfer-level course (“developmental” is used interchangeably with “non-transfer-level” and “remedial” in this analysis).
This research project, funded by
The William and Flora Hewlett
Foundation, complements a
study supported by the James
Irvine Foundation to
the academic expectations in
mathematics and English-
Language Arts for recent high
school graduates enrolling in the
California community colleges.
It investigates whether entrylevel
academic standards are similar
to those standards assessed in
the 11th grade in California high
schools. Then it recommends
steps that California can take to
align high school standards with
community college standards.
American River College (ARC) is one of a few colleges in California that has replaced the traditional placement model with an “informed selfplacement” in mathematics. Instead of placing students into courses based on test scores, self-placement is designed to match ARC math course content. Students select the level of math test that they believe best matches their skill levels and get results on the computer immediately following the test. Depending on the results, students may take additional easier or more difficult tests to determine their readiness for specific collegelevel courses. Counselors use placement test results to advise students which course is most appropriate. The examination of “informed self-placement” was supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in order to better understand self-placement at ARC and how self-placement might be used as a signal to high school students of community college standards.