Defining Misplacement

Based on a college's test cut scores, entering students might be either overplaced into college-level courses they could fail, or underplaced into remedial courses when they could have passed college-level classes with a B or better.1

1 in 3 community college students is misplaced into either remedial or college-level courses

Faculty, administrators and researchers alike recognize the limitations of relying on a single standardized test such as ACCUPLACER, which is often the only measure used to assess incoming students' math, reading and writing skills. Research indicates that these tests frequently misplace students into either college-level or developmental (also called remedial) math and English courses.

Where a new student starts has a lot to do with whether he or she finishes.

Six years after starting at public two-year institutions, as many as two-thirds of students placed in remedial courses had left without a degree or certificate, compared to about half of those who start in college-level courses.3

Developmental education can financially impact students after they leave college too. Remedial courses cost students as much in tuition and fees as standard classes but don't offer credit toward a degree or certificate—even though many students use financial aid to pay for them. And whether these students graduate or not, they have to repay their debt.


A growing number of community colleges are exploring ways to improve graduation rates by switching to more accurate assessment and placement practices. By looking at a variety of other college readiness indicators—known as multiple measures—they're finding that more accurate placements and better student outcomes can be achieved.

Early evidence suggests that including high school GPA and other measures of college readiness alongside test scores can more accurately place first-year students in math and English classes.4 These additional measures include:

  • Transcripts
  • Writing samples
  • Non-cognitive assessments of students'
    • Motivation
    • Learning strategies
    • Academic tenacity
    • Sense of belonging and engagement

This pioneering work is happening mainly on the coasts. To learn how multiple measures assessment (MMA) could work in the Midwest, Great Lakes funded a landscape scan conducted by education and social policy research firm MDRC and the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University. During 2015 and 2016, MDRC and CCRC examined the current placement policies among two-year colleges in Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, which revealed that many colleges are interested in pursuing MMA methods but are unsure how to move forward.

In July 2016, Great Lakes began the second phase of this project with a nearly $1 million commitment to support the exploration, development and implementation of state-specific MMA systems in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Based on their readiness to pilot new placement models during the 2016-2017 academic year, five colleges from the Wisconsin Technical College System and five colleges from Minnesota State Colleges and Universities were selected for participation in this two-year project. Each college received Great Lakes funds to help cover setup and administrative costs, and were guided through the implementation process by researchers from MDRC and CCRC.

During 2017, the colleges mapped out new MMA systems, capturing data on the differences the new measures made in student placement, and piloted them with incoming fall students. The colleges administered non-cognitive assessments and captured high school GPA in addition to ACCUPLACER testing and other tests such as ACT and SAT. This enabled colleges to easily compare how various students would be placed under the old rules and the new MMA rules.

Building on this project, we made a new $1.5 million grant to MDRC and CCRC in early 2018 to continue working with four colleges in Minnesota and two in Wisconsin over four years. While the first project allowed colleges to pilot new placement systems and estimate how well they worked, this second project will include a randomized control trial to determine the actual impact of MMA systems. We hope this work will ultimately help create a roadmap for colleges nationwide to adopt more effective placement practices.


Minnesota State Colleges and Universities

  • Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Coon Rapids
  • Century College, White Bear Lake
  • Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Minneapolis
  • Normandale Community College, Bloomington
  • North Hennepin Community College, Brooklyn Park

Wisconsin Technical College System

  • Fox Valley Technical College, Appleton
  • Lakeshore Technical College, Cleveland
  • Madison College, Madison
  • Moraine Park Technical College, Fond du Lac
  • Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Green Bay


Contact Senior Program Officer Sue Cui at

1 Improving the Accuracy of Remedial Placement, Community College Research Center, July 2015 2 Community Colleges FAQs, Community College Research Center, 2012 3 Remedial Course Taking at U.S. Public 2- and 4-Year Institutions, National Center for Education Statistics, September 20164 Improving the Accuracy of Remedial Placement, Community College Research Center, July 2015