Changes Coming for Student Placement

December 11, 2018

The TCC Academic Affairs Council approved two proposals on Nov. 27 that should pave the way for more efficient, accurate and innovative student placement and increased student success.  

“I am so proud of the commitment and dedication of our faculty and staff in pursuing this change that is a national best practice for community colleges and will greatly advantage our students,” says Dr. Cindy Hess, TCC senior vice president and chief academic officer.

Moving forward, using students’ high school grade point averages will be an option for placing students on their academic paths in math, and new placement test policies for all students have been implemented.

“Placement is really important for students because it sets them on a positive trajectory for completing their coursework,” says Tracy Skopek, TCC dean of liberal arts and communication.

Using high school GPAs to place students seems counter to years of standard operating procedures, but the data overwhelmingly supports it as a more accurate predictor of student success than a placement test.

“They demonstrate in the test what they can do in that few hours of time,” says Lyn Kent, TCC dean of science and mathematics. “High school GPA is a measure of success over a longer period of time. There is logic to the idea that GPA is a better indicator of a student’s ability than a placement test.”

The data supports the logic. TCC director of institutional research and assessment presented math course data relevant to placement at a Mathematics Department meeting in August.

“For every course, without fail, the high school GPA was a better predictor of success than a placement test,” says Kent. “We almost have to suspend our disbelief to go this route, but the data is that compelling. For most courses, there was no significant correlation of course success to our current placement methods. High school GPA measures a student’s grit and how hard they work. If students do well in their own high schools, that shows an ability to be successful elsewhere. It’s measuring more than just their knowledge at one point in time.”

Going forward, high school GPA will be used first to determine placement, followed by testing scores such as the ACT or SAT, and then placement tests.

“We will use the highest placement out of all those that are available,” says Kent. “It gives students the best possible chance to complete their college-level math in conjunction with our new accelerated developmental education curriculum.”

Kent says everyone has worked hard in all of the involved departments and committees to make these changes happen for our students.

“It’s one of those examples of how all these different areas at TCC have said this is the right thing for students, and then figured out how to get it done,” says Kent.

Placement testing is still an important tool for setting students on a path for success. The second proposal cleans up TCC’s testing policy and creates consistency in the College’s testing practices.

“We want to have the best tools possible to place students for their best chance of success,” says Skopek.

The process began last year based on a recommendation from the HLC Persistence and Completion Academy to improve the College’s testing policy. The new policy sets rules for how long test scores are good for (five years), establishes a two-year window for those scores to continue to be valid when a test is discontinued, and mandates that TCC will no longer accept placement scores from other institutions.

“I’m excited we can implement something college-wide that can be used for all placement and that will simplify the process for our staff and all students,” says Skopek.