So, how do community colleges decide who needs remediation and in which course? Although taking the SAT or ACT is rarely required for two-year colleges, very competitive SAT scores are often needed to get out of remediation testing. To escape the remediation placement test at Long Island’s Nassau Community College, for example, students need a 550 in math, 550 in reading and a 540 in writing. That is a total score of 1640. To put that score in perspective, only 34 percent of all college bound seniors score that high. The College Board says that if students have a composite score of 1550, they are college ready. The inappropriately high cut scores at Nassau virtually guarantee that nearly all incoming students will be obligated to take at least one placement test.
Then there are the placement tests themselves. There are two that dominate the market—ACCUPLACER, a product of the College Board and COMPASS, produced by the ACT. They are short, computer adaptive tests that apparently are not very accurate.
According to studies cited by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, ACCUPLACER severely misplaces 33 percent of all students, and COMPASS severely misplaces 27 percent, either by putting students into courses that are too hard, or in courses that are too easy. Two studies found that student GPAs were a far more accurate predictor—reducing severe placement errors by about half. Another study of remediation found that nearly 25 percent (math) and over 33 percent (English) of remedial course placements in one urban system were “severe under-placements” due to the COMPASS test. In short, lots of kids get placed into remediation who really do not need it.
How helpful are traditional remedial courses? Again, the Community College Research Center sheds light. Studies of the effects of remediation yield results that are mixed or negative. Many students enrolled in these remedial courses never complete the courses, and those who do, do not necessarily benefit.
What happens to weaker students who simply skip remediation? The research center found that students who ignored remedial placement had a slightly lower success rate than those who did not need remediation. But students who were referred for remediation but skipped it, had a “substantially higher” rate of success than those who took remedial courses. In other words, remediation is no remedy.
It is telling that college remediation rate statistics have become the remaining go-to number for reformers. It is a garbage statistic, and it is all they have left.