Assessing a student’s ability to be successful in courses and programs is an important and necessary aspect of student success. Two major practices exist to predict a student’s likelihood of succeeding in a course or program: 1) Successful completion of prerequisite or advisory courses (as documented on transcripts) and 2) the assessment for placement process. These two methods are presumed to be mechanisms that ensure that a student has acquired the knowledge and skills necessary for success.
Presuming a student is prepared for a course through the completion of a prerequisite course is a rather straightforward process; however, placing a student using an assessment for placement process is necessarily more complicated, as such placements cannot be made based on assessment test scores alone. Some students may possess necessary course or program skills but have difficulty demonstrating those skills on standardized tests or fail to prepare adequately for an assessment test. For this reason, Title 5 §55502(i) clearly mandates that California community colleges use multiple measures in their assessment processes: “‘Multiple measures’ are a required component of a district’s assessment system and refer to the use of more than one assessment measure in order to assess the student” [emphasis added]. The requirement to use multiple measures is reiterated in Title 5 §55522(a): “When using an English, mathematics, or ESL assessment test for placement, it must be used with one or more other measures to comprise multiple measures.”
While multiple measures have always been required by Title 5, adequate research into the accuracy of these measures has not been readily available to inform educational decisions. Individual colleges have made various decisions regarding the use of subjective measures and have therefore reported differing experiences. While colleges are required to employ assessment tools that have been validated, no mandate exists for a corresponding effort to validate the application of multiple measures. This paper addresses the broader issue beyond simply evaluating a transcript for previous coursework or limiting placement based on an exam; it examines the use of multiple measures in addition to placement tests as a way to improve the overall assessment of students’ abilities.
Title 5 §53200 gives academic senates the responsibility for making recommendations about academic and professional matters concerning “standards or policies regarding student preparation and success.” The intent behind prerequisites and placement processes, including the selection and application of multiple measures, is to ensure or enhance student success through proper preparation. Therefore, academic senates must be directly involved and play a leading role in facilitating and developing recommendations about assessment processes and the use of multiple measures at both local and state levels.
The concept of applying multiple measures for placement is often misunderstood by local colleges, and data are sometimes difficult to collect. Even within a single college placement practices may vary among different disciplines. Multiple methods and placement practices were summarized by Regional Education Laboratory (REL) in 2011. A survey was implemented to examine current practices and applications of multiple measures. Of the 112 colleges in the California Community College (CCC) System, 59, or just over half provided survey information about multiple measures (See Appendix A). The survey noted that only 48 of the 59 responding colleges reported how they used multiple measures, and 34 of the colleges reported using a “weighted score” of placement tests and then adding or subtracting points for multiple measures. Twelve colleges reported relying most heavily on qualitative data to direct placement decisions, placing less consideration on placement test scores. REL reported that weighting of multiple measures varied widely and that only a few colleges used regression analysis to predict success.
In this paper, “use of multiple measures for placement,” or simply “multiple measures,” refers to a process in which colleges rely on more than a single factor to determine student readiness for a course or program. The purpose of this paper is to do the following:
- review the value of and reasons for using multiple measures in California community colleges for placing students into the curriculum;
- address the role of the academic senate, discipline experts, and counseling faculty in multiple measures placement;
- provide guidance regarding best practices for implementing multiple measures in order to improve placement accuracy.
In addition, the paper will explore the implications of multiple measures on current issues involving efforts to implement a common assessment across the state, including unresolved issues of portability of assessment for placement results, accuracy and reliability of assessment, and local autonomy regarding assessment and placement decisions.