New Approaches to Student Assessment Chancellor's Column

October 09, 2018
Chancellor Eloy Oakley

That rumbling sound you hear in higher education is coming from an ideological clash over the efficacy – and equity – of high stakes, standardized tests that can determine if students get into college and whether they are relegated to remedial education at the start of their academic careers.

The landscape is shifting beneath our feet in California’s community colleges and four-year public colleges and universities. And it is both welcome and long overdue.

Recently, faculty leaders of the University of California announced they would study whether standardized admission tests like the SAT and ACT should continue to be a requirement of admission.  Chancellor Timothy White of the California State University is also asking academic leaders to study the issue. This comes as a college admissions “test optional” movement has gained momentum across the country.

Research continues to mount that demonstrates the poor predictive quality of standardized admissions and placement exams. Scores on the SAT and ACT more closely correlate with wealth rather than college readiness and there is a disproportionate impact on low-income students and students of color.

This is why the California Community Colleges is changing its assessment and placement practices in a way that will help more students achieve their potential and end our reliance on standardized tests.

Evidence shows that community colleges place too many students into remediation and that significantly more students would complete transfer requirements in math and English if enrolled directly in transfer-level English and math courses.

In California, more than 170,000 students are placed in remedial math courses—with more than 110,000 never completing the math required to earn a degree. Students of color are more likely than white students to be sent to multiple remedial courses that do not count toward their college degree.

California students are far more prepared than assessment tests have acknowledged, and students’ high school performance is a much stronger predictor of success in transfer-level courses.

Assembly Bill 705 (Irwin), which was unanimously approved by both houses of the state Legislature, requires colleges to use a contemporary set of metrics to determine student readiness. By giving more weight to high school coursework and grades, as opposed to standardized test, our colleges can cast away many of the traditional barriers to equity, persistence and student success.

California State University is also taking a different approach to remedial education, having announced last year that placement exams and remedial education will no longer be required for freshmen.

There are some in higher education who will resist these changes, but there is an immutable force that has emerged: Students armed with facts and research have rightfully put us on notice that we are accountable for seeing that these reforms succeed.

“The fact that colleges have been pushing the placement test, which is not a good way to measure students’ capability and has shown to have inherent bias, instead of using multiple measures, reflects the mentality of a school that is setting up its students to not succeed,” student Christian Rodriguez told our Board of Governors in September.

When it comes to admission and placement in college, it’s time to move past tradition and measure student potential more accurately.