Placement tests and developmental instruction were intended to help underprepared students succeed in college. There’s growing evidence that those good intentions are not helping, but instead are holding back many students who could succeed in college level courses, with the proper support.
“We need to redesign our system for placing students in gateway math and English,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. “Our colleges should move away from the Virginia Placement Test (VPT), a high stakes exam, and rely on other means to assess whether students can succeed in college-level English and math.”
Looking at VCCS results system-wide in the fall 2018 semester, the so-called “multiple measures” of students’ academic readiness, such as a student’s performance and course exposure in high school, were shown to be just as effective as placement testing for predicting pass rates for students taking gateway college math and English.
“Instead of placing students in developmental classes where they often stall out and don’t earn credit, we will test a plan to enroll students in credit-generating classes and provide what’s called “co-requisite” learning supports, such as supplemental instruction and tutoring,” said Sharon Morrissey, VCCS’s senior vice chancellor for academic and workforce programs.
“Our colleges already have made substantial progress by offering co-requisite instruction for gateway English,” added Morrissey. “We hope for similar results for gateway math students.”
Virginia is not alone in the shift from the testing & remediation model. A December 2018 report by the Education Commission of the States said 19 states or college systems now allow for the use of multiple measures in placement decisions.
And an article this February in the Chronicle of Higher Education noted,
“reformers, supported by grants from major philanthropies including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Kresge Foundation, have persuaded a growing number of state lawmakers and college-system administrators that remedial classes are among the biggest barriers to college completion.
“Co-requisite remediation, which takes different forms on different campuses, has risen to the top of the reform strategies, with rollouts across such states as Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, and Tennessee.”
“We are keenly aware the VCCS has reworked student placement policies in recent years. We also know that the changes we’re talking about have major implications for the way our faculty and administrators do their jobs. But we must ensure that student progress and completion are our top priorities,” said DuBois.
The eight VCCS colleges who are participating in the pilot will provide a diverse range of student communities for the test.
• Blue Ridge Community College
• Germanna Community College
• J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College
• Mountain Empire Community College
• Paul D. Camp Community College
• Piedmont Virginia Community College
• Southwest Virginia Community College
• Tidewater Community College
In the direct enrollment pilot project, the participating colleges will:
• Eliminate use of the VPT for placement (for non-dual enrollment students)
• Place students in college level courses and appropriate concurrent learning supports using multiple measures other than the VPT
• Eliminate pre-requisite developmental courses
• Engage faculty and staff in developing training/support to accomplish the pilot
• Develop concurrent enrollment learning supports, such as co-requisites, supplemental instruction, tutoring, etc.
• Develop an identification and support structure for students who have additional needs at the upper and lower margins
• Seek a hold-harmless financial model for pilot colleges
A task force of college representatives has been meeting since fall of 2018 to review the experience of other states and to outline the parameters of the pilot project. The first cohort of students will be enrolled in the pilot at the test colleges in fall of 2020. Results will be shared with the chancellor in summer of 2021.
“There is still much work to be done,” said Morrissey. “We are grateful to the faculty and staff who are leading this important undertaking. Lessons learned from this pilot will help will guide future policy decisions that promote student success and ensure institutional strength.”