A report released by the Regional Education Laboratory at Education Northwest discusses developmental placement and college readiness at the University of Alaska and suggests that high school grades are a better predictor of readiness than are standardized tests.
The report, “Developmental education and college readiness at the University of Alaska,” takes a closer look at the college readiness of high school students, considered to be the ability of students to enroll and successfully complete a college-level course without the need for developmental education, or non-credit courses taken in order to better prepare students for English and math. The percentage of college freshmen who are placed in developmental education courses is considered to be an indication of the preparedness of the student population for college coursework.
Report findings suggest developmental education placement rates are higher in math than in English for first-time students enrolled in any degree program at the school. Those rates were found to increase as the amount of time between the completion of high school and the beginning of college also began to lengthen.
For students in a bachelor’s degree program, developmental placement rates for English were found to be higher for Alaska Native students who were originally from rural areas of the state, while math rates were higher for Black students from urban areas.
In addition, 47% of bachelor’s degree students who were enrolled in developmental education passed college English and 23% passed math.
For those students enrolled in college-level courses, high school grade point average was a key predictor of college performance in both English and math, more so than SAT, ACT, or ACCUPLACER scores.
Colleges usually place students in developmental education courses based on their scores on tests like the SAT or ACT, which are both taken in high school, or ACCUPLACER, which can be taken at any point during matriculation. However, recent research suggests that a score received on one of these exams could cause a student to be placed in developmental education courses when they would have been otherwise successful in a college-level course, or in some cases, the other way around, putting students who would have benefited from the additional help into college-level courses before they are truly ready.
The authors conclude that results found from the study suggest that high school grades are in fact a better predictor of academic performance in college than standardized exam scores are. They go on to say that further research among college stakeholders is needed in order to determine any benefits that may result from using additional measures to predict college readiness.
They suggest that colleges may in fact be able to lower developmental education rates if they could more accurately predict which students would benefit from developmental education.
The study was found to have three limitations, including that the course placement of 20% of the sample could not be identified. These students tended to be older and pursuing an associate’s degree or a certificate. In addition, the study calculated placement only using exam scores, while developmental education also makes use of recommendations made by faculty advisors and other informal practices and processes. Last, findings concerning the predictive power of high school grade point averages compared with exam scores only apply to students who enrolled directly into college English or math and had a high school grade point average on file.