The College Puzzle Blog
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Dr. Michael W. Kirst

Michael W. Kirst is Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University since 1969.
Dr. Kirst received his Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard. Before joining the Stanford University faculty, Dr. Kirst held several positions with the federal government, including Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment and Poverty. He was a former president of the California State Board of Education. His book From High School to College with Andrea Venezia was published by Jossey Bass in 2004.

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My blog discusses the important and complex subjects of college completion, college success, student risk factors (for failing), college readiness, and academic preparation. I will explore the pieces of the college puzzle that heavily influence, if not determine, college success rates.

Understanding College Placement Exams: A Crucial Part of College Preparation

Understanding College Placement Exams: A Crucial Part of College Success

At broad access two and four year colleges, placement exams are the crucial standard that students confront when they enter, and are the pathway to credit-level courses. Many students in broad access colleges work many hours while attending postsecondary education, and receive weak and confusing signals about necessary academic preparation to pass placement exams. But secondary school students know they will be admitted if they meet minimum GPA and course requirements, or are over 18. Consequently, they are not prepared for placement exams, and end up in remedial courses. Remediation for first semester community college students is over 60%.

Research on the content, reliability, and necessary preparation for placement exams is scant, and placement standards are not well publicized to prospective students or secondary school teachers. The content, cognitive demands, and psychometric quality of placement exams are a “dark continent” in terms of the assessment research literature. Students are admitted to the postsecondary institution under a low standard, but placed in credit courses or remediation on another higher standard. Secondary school students wrongly believe that their high school graduation requirements are sufficient to be placed in postsecondary credit-level work, and rarely know about the possibility of placement exam failure that leads to starting college in remedial, non-credit courses. Students who begin in remedial reading and math courses have a lower probability of finishing their desired academic program (including vocational education certificates) (Adelman, 2006). In sum, remediation is a poor pathway from highs school to college, while being able to enter credit-level courses leads to college completion

Revision of college placement exams have not been part of the K-12 standards movement that has swept across the U.S. Indeed, placement exams are rarely part of the discussion because standards policies are made in separate K-12 and higher education orbits that rarely intersect.

David T. Conley, College Readiness (Eugene, Oregon; Educational Policy Improvement Center, 2007).

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