Academic journal article Community College Review

Evaluating Placement and Developmental Studies Programs at a Technical Institute: Using ACT's Underprepared Student Follow-Up Report

Academic journal article Community College Review

Evaluating Placement and Developmental Studies Programs at a Technical Institute: Using ACT's Underprepared Student Follow-Up Report

Article excerpt

Technical schools and community colleges serve very diverse student populations, many of whom are high-risk students underprepared for college studies (Wattenbarger & McLeod, 1988; Newman, 1994; Roueche & Roueche, 1993; Smittle, 1995). Because of the populations they serve, the need for effective entry course placement is of paramount importance at these colleges (Rounds & Anderson, 1984; Hughes & Nelson, 1991; Maxwell, 1994; Newman, 1994; Smittle, 1995), especially when considering that many vocational and technical colleges have open-door policies and may be self-selected by students "for a variety of reasons including weaker secondary preparations, lower cognitive abilities, failure to complete a high school program, limited aspirations or the desire for an alternative career" (Taube & Taube, 1990, p.93).

Traditional admission tests have been found to be ineffective for use as placement instruments at technical schools and community colleges (Newman, 1994). "Standardized tests have been used for initial college course placement, but with mixed or generally unsatisfactory results, prompting the development of basic skills placement tests" (Hudson, McPhee, & Petrosko, 1993, p. 5). The American College Testing Program (ACT) began piloting the ASSET in California in the early 1980s (Rounds & Anderson, 1984). The ASSET is a student success system for two-year institutions designed to be a student advising, placement, and retention system. It includes 25-minute placement tests in writing, reading, numerical skills, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, college algebra, and geometry. Today it is used widely by technical and community colleges for course placement (American College Testing Program, 1990).

Chattahoochee Technical Institute (CTI) in Marietta, Georgia, began using ASSET for mandatory placement in the spring of 1994. CTI administers the following four sections of the ASSET: writing, reading, numerical skills, and intermediate algebra. By the spring of 1996, student services personnel identified the need to determine whether the Institute's placement program was effective, particularly for the school's large number of high-risk students placed into developmental education classes. Thayer and Maxwell (1994) insist that colleges "must go beyond the `political correctness' of merely assuring accrediting bodies, state or federal boards and potential constituencies that they have a learning assistance program; now they must show that they have an effective program" (p. 283). Akst and Hecht (1994) agree, stating that "In an age of shrinking budgets and growing demands for accountability, the evaluation of academic programs hardly requires justification. However, the need for evaluation is particularly acute in college remedial programs" (p. 289).

CTI was the first postsecondary institution to use ACT's new Underprepared Student Follow-up Report (UPSFUR) service. The UPSFUR is a means through which institutions who use the ASSET for course placement, particularly developmental studies course placement, can assess whether students placed into the courses are successful in subsequent courses. Course placement is compared with subsequent grades in the developmental studies courses and the regular level courses that follow. The student services personnel at CTI recognized the importance of conducting such a study because large numbers of students were being placed into developmental studies courses based on their ASSET scores. Questions to be answered by conducting the study were as follows: Did students placed in developmental studies courses successfully complete the courses? Did students who successfully completed the developmental studies courses continue on successfully to complete regular diploma level courses and regular associate's degree level courses?

High-risk students are known to drop out of the Institute at higher numbers than students placed directly into regular diploma and associate's degree courses. …

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