Colleges Misassign Many to Remedial Classes, Studies Find

Ann McClure's picture
Thursday, March 1, 2012

Two new studies from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College have found that community colleges unnecessarily place tens of thousands of entering students in remedial classes — and that their placement decisions would be just as good if they relied on high school grade-point averages instead of standardized placement tests.

The studies address one of the most intractable problems of higher education: the dead end of remedial education. At most community colleges, a majority of entering students who recently graduated from high school are placed in remedial classes, where they pay tuition but earn no college credit. Over all, less than a quarter of those who start in remedial classes go on to earn two-year degrees or transfer to four-year colleges.

The studies, one of a large urban community college system and the other of a statewide system, found that more than a quarter of the students assigned to remedial classes based on their test scores could have passed college-level courses with a grade of B or higher.

“We hear a lot about the high rates of failure in college-level classes at community colleges,” said Judith Scott-Clayton, the author of the urban study and a Teachers College professor of economics and education and senior research associate. “Those are very visible. What’s harder to see are the students who could have done well at college level but never got the chance because of these placement tests.”

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