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Informed Self-Placement Engages Students in the College Placement Process, With Encouraging Results

June 16, 2022 3-minute read
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A new report from the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR) suggests that Informed Self-Placement (ISP) has the potential to increase the number of students enrolling in and completing college-level math and English courses during their first year. This in turn increases students’ chances of completing their degree.

ISP is a placement system in which colleges provide students with information about placement policies, available courses and other relevant topics to help determine whether they should be placed in college-level or developmental math and English courses. This allows students to reflect on their skills and life circumstances and think about which course is most appropriate for their academic goals. Equitable placement practices are important because students placed in developmental courses are shown to be disproportionately from low-income backgrounds, and less likely to complete a degree.

In schools that use ISP, students have the opportunity to develop relationships with advisers, discuss their academic background and make an informed decision that best suits their needs. ISP is of particular interest because it does not rely on standardized test scores, which can provide inaccurate assessments of students’ actual readiness and often serve as a barrier to student success. Instead, it intentionally engages students in the placement process, inherently honoring the students’ own understanding of their abilities and knowledge.

Ascendium supported this exploratory study as part of its Remove Structural Barriers to Success portfolio. To learn more about ISP, CAPR researchers spent a year studying students’ math and English course enrollments and completions at three Nevada colleges. They also conducted interviews with researchers, scholars, system leaders and faculty and staff from colleges nationwide. Nevada was selected for this analysis because many colleges in the Nevada System of Higher Education have recently implemented some form of ISP for math and/or English placement.

Informed Self-Placement Today: An Exploratory Study of Student Outcomes and Placement Practices shows that since the introduction of ISP, the percentage of enrolled students taking and completing college-level math and English courses is increasing. The report also shows that ISP is being implemented among a diverse student body at Nevada colleges, though more research is needed to indicate what, if any, impact this has on equity gaps in math and English college course completion. Regardless, the results are encouraging, particularly as the COVID-19 health crisis has left colleges open to alternative placement systems that can be easily used in a remote or virtual setting.

“ISP practices are intriguing to Ascendium as we seek to explore ways institutions can evolve their practices to better meet student needs — and increase the likelihood students will enter into and complete first-year courses that we know lead to momentum towards degree attainment,” says Amy Girardi, a senior program officer for Ascendium’s Remove Structural Barriers to Success focus area. “Ascendium is interested in exploring more ways placement practices and innovations can remove the thorniest barriers to success. We are especially excited to learn from the field how placement practices can be used to expand access and success in postsecondary education programs to increase economic mobility for the populations we care about.”

CAPR is an organization led by the Community College Research Center and MDRC. To learn more, visit the MDRC website.