Multiple Measures Assessment Project


College students who place into developmental (remedial) education are substantially less likely to graduate than students who place into college-level courses. Most students are directed into developmental courses based on placement test scores. But large-scale studies have indicated that these test scores misplace substantial numbers of students — in other words, for many students, the test score does not accurately reflect their ability to succeed in college-level courses. One strategy to improve placement accuracy that is gaining momentum across the country is using multiple measures instead of a single test score.

MDRC, in partnership with the Community College Research Center (CCRC), is testing the use of multiple measures for assessment and placement in two-year colleges. In Phase I of the Multiple Measures Assessment Project, launched in fall 2016, MDRC provided technical assistance to ten colleges in Minnesota and Wisconsin to develop and pilot new placement systems using multiple measures, integrating high school grade point averages and noncognitive assessments (which measure behaviors and attitudes) into the existing test-based placement rules. Phase II of the project, which began in fall 2017, is a randomized controlled trial at five colleges, comparing students’ outcomes under the new multiple measures system with outcomes under the traditional test-only system. The Multiple Measures Assessment Project is funded by Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and Affiliates.

MDRC and CCRC researchers with the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness are conducting a related study of seven State University of New York (SUNY) colleges.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

As several large-scale studies have shown that placement tests are a blunt instrument for assessing students’ college readiness, many colleges have responded by incorporating other criteria into their placement process. Even some state systems, such as North Carolina and California, are using multiple measures for placement. Yet the impact of these new placement systems has not yet been rigorously tested. MDRC and the Community College Research Center (CCRC) began evaluating multiple measures experimentally through the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR). The Multiple Measures Assessment Project builds on this work in a few ways, most notably by including noncognitive assessments in addition to test scores and high school grade point average.

In the first phase of the project, the study team provided technical assistance to five Minnesota and five Wisconsin colleges to design and pilot multiple measures placement systems. Each college was given guidance on how to select measures, support in creating new placement rules, and technical advice on setting up internal systems that would generate the new placement results.

During the second phase of the project, four Minnesota colleges and one Wisconsin college are randomly assigning students to be placed using either the new multiple measures placement system or the traditional test-only system. This will allow MDRC to measure how the new system changes students’ placements and whether it has impacts on students’ academic outcomes. Phase II also includes a case study of the scale-up from the pilot to learn how these systems can be implemented and expanded to all test-takers.

These findings, along with those from the CAPR evaluation, will be useful for colleges across the country considering the implementation of multiple measures for placement.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

Phase II of the Multiple Measures Assessment Project is an individual-level random assignment study. At the five participating colleges, study participants will be randomly assigned to either the program group, whose course placement will be created by applying multiple measures, or the control group, whose course placement will be based on the traditional placement test alone. Alongside data on placement outcomes, the study team will gather transcript data to analyze course performance for students placed with the new system.

Minnesota Colleges

  • Anoka Ramsey Community College
  • Century College
  • Minneapolis Community and Technical College
  • Normandale Community College
  • North Hennepin Community College

Wisconsin Colleges

  • Fox Valley Technical College
  • Lakeshore Technical College
  • Madison College
  • Moraine Park Technical College
  • Northeast Wisconsin Technical College