Peralta Considers: Are HS Grades a Better Gauge of College Readiness Than Standardized Tests?

By Jon Leckie, Oakland Local

The Peralta Community College Board of Trustees might consider using high school grades to determine college readiness of first-year students after a presentation from interim Vice Chancellor Michael Orkin at its April 23 meeting.

oaklandlocallogoCurrently, the Peralta District, as well as most community college districts in the state, uses the COMPASS test — which is computer based, multiple choice and standardized — to determine placement of first-year students in either remedial or transfer-level math and English courses. But a study by California’s Community College Student Success Task Force is challenging the effectiveness of the test.

“When compared with standardized tests, high school grades were much better predictors statistically of student success,” Orkin said. “There are lots and lots of students who are doing well in their high school classes and being told they need to go to remedial classes.”

Part of the study looked at Long Beach City College, which also uses standardized testing to determine student placement. According to the study, 60 percent of students placed in remedial English courses earned A’s or B’s in the same subject in high school. Meanwhile, 35 percent of students placed in transfer-level English courses earned C’s and D’s in their high school class — and more than half went on to fail their college courses.

The study found that at Grossmont–Cuyamaca Community College District in El Cajon, 95 percent of students with high grades in 12th-grade English courses were placed in remedial classes during their first year at the college.

Board President Cy Gulassa (left) and Vice President Abel Guillen (Oakland Local)
Board President Cy Gulassa (left) and Vice President Abel Guillen (Oakland Local)

“If you get an A or B in high school, you’re successful in high school,” Orkin said. “What message is the college sending when they place those students in remedial classes?”

During the fall semester last year, Long Beach City College implemented the Promise Pathways program, which gives students who earned A’s or B’s in 12th-grade English and math courses direct placement in transfer-level courses. First-year students at Long Beach City College are now four times more likely to be placed in transfer-level English courses and three times more likely to be placed in transfer-level math courses.

According to the Student Success Scorecard produced in March 2013 by the Accountability Reporting for Community Colleges — a set of statewide data collected and published by the chancellor’s office —  first-year students placed in remedial classes (most are first generation, low income or underrepresented) have a 41 percent college completion rate compared with 71 percent for those placed in transfer-level courses.

In a story from The Los Angeles Times, Long Beach City College President Eloy Oakley estimates that students who benefited from the Promise Pathways program, mostly African American and Latino, will save a semester and a half of remedial course work.

The task force study and pilot programs at Long Beach City College and the Grossmont–Cuyamaca Community College District are too recent to fully determine actual completion and success rates, Orkin said. But he noted that initial results from classes taken by students affected by the program show that they are performing better than those placed in transfer-level classes based on test results.

In addition to fostering student success, Orkin said he sees the possibility for a similar program in the Peralta District as a great impetus for working more closely with Oakland’s K-12 system. He already has spoken with Gary Yee, newly selected acting superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District.

“In order to do this, it requires a team,” Orkin said, “and opens the door to some interesting collaborative efforts.”

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