Colleges to Recognize Common Core Test in Course Placement

Written by: Jason Burns

Primary Source: Green & White

Students taking a computer-based assessment.

Image courtesy of wikimedia.org

On April 15, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), one of the two common core testing consortia, announced an agreement with almost 200 colleges and universities in 6 states to use its classification of college preparedness to exempt students from remedial coursework. Included in the agreement are all public institutions of higher education in Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and the California State University system. This will arguably save costs for students who will have an additional method of avoiding remedial coursework that typically does not count for credit and also save money for colleges and universities by reducing the number of students who need to be administered placement tests. However, the most significant impact of using SBAC scores for course placement is the legitimacy it confers on SBAC and the Common Core State Standards upon which SBAC is based.

Students and Schools

The announcement by SBAC touts the potential benefits to students from being able to use their SBAC scores to bypass remedial courses.

“Reducing students’ need for remediation can go a long way toward meeting state and national goals for increased degree attainment, as research has consistently shown that students who enter college without need for remediation are far more likely to complete a degree” said Tony Alpert, SBAC’s executive director.

Reducing the proportion of students in need of remedial courses is a laudable goal. A 2013 report from the Institute of Education Sciences found that as of 2008, 20% of college freshman were enrolled in remedial coursework. These courses pose significant costs to these students as tuition for such courses is typically the same as regular coursework, but cannot be applied towards a degree, increasing the cost of earning a degree and likely delaying students’ entry into the workforce. Reducing the need for these courses would therefore be of significant benefit for students with college aspirations.

At the same time, colleges and universities may also benefit from the use of SBAC assessments to place students out of remedial courses. Most college students are required to take course placement tests and if SBAC scores reduce the number of students taking them, the institution will likely save money through fewer test administrations.

Moot Benefit?

However, SBAC scores are unlikely to help many students who would not be able to waive remedial courses by other means. SBAC estimates that only the top 11% of high school juniors will score at level 4, which is deemed “college ready.” At the same time, the University of Oregon, one of the institutions in the new SBAC agreement, requires a score of 25 on the ACT Math exam or a 550 on the SAT Math exam for a student to automatically place out of remedial math courses. These scores would place a student in the top 21% and top 38% of test takers, respectively.

Given the above figures, it seems unlikely that a student would score high enough on the SBAC assessment to avoid remedial courses but fail to achieve a qualifying ACT or SAT score. And since colleges and universities will still require applicants to submit either ACT or SAT scores, the potential benefits to students and institutions are essentially moot.

New Legitimacy

By recognizing the SBAC as a marker of college readiness, this agreement gives a special status to SBAC tests. Prior to this, students were able to place out of remedial courses by meeting or exceeding particular scores on the college/university placement test, an Advanced Placement exam, an International Baccalaureate exam, or the ACT or SAT exam. Considering SBAC scores alongside these other highly regarded tests signals trust in their ability to measure students’ knowledge and skills, which adds credibility to the SBAC “brand.”

Vicariously, the use of SBAC by so many institutions of higher education also confers legitimacy on the Common Core State Standards, on which the SBAC assessments are based.  This is especially significant given the politicization of the standards in recent times, though the impact this decision will have on the public discourse around the Common Core is unclear.

The Common Core State Standards were developed to prepare students for success in college and/or the world of work and since their inception, the specifics of what “college and career readiness” means has been subject to debate. By colleges and universities accepting SBAC’s definition of college readiness, this debate is somewhat relieved and a rare bridge between K-12 and higher education has been created, which could have a significant long-term impact.

Jason Burns – burnsja6@msu.edu

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Jason Burns
Jason Burns is a second-year doctoral student in Educational Policy. His research interests include the application of theories from economics, behavioral economics, and psychology to understand how teachers, students, and administrators use information to make decisions. Before coming to MSU, Jason taught high school social studies, wrote curriculum, and developed assessments for Howard County Public Schools in suburban Maryland. Jason holds a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University and a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University.