At community colleges and open-enrollment universities, most first-year students take placement exams in English and mathematics to determine whether they are ready for college-level courses. Students with low scores are placed in developmental, or remedial, courses that may not count toward college credits. Twenty percent of students entering college nationwide, and over a quarter of students entering public community colleges, end up taking at least one developmental course. Historically, the overwhelming majority of these students have not graduated.
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. This fact means that many students are taking these courses when they do not need them, using up valuable time and money. Meanwhile, there may be students who need remediation but are not getting it.
To improve placement accuracy, hundreds of colleges across the country have begun implementing a strategy called multiple measures assessment (MMA), a placement approach that uses alternative indicators including high school grade point average instead of or in addition to a single test score to improve placement accuracy. At the same time, to help students who have been assessed as needing developmental education complete college-level courses sooner, colleges are increasingly offering corequisite remediation, where students enroll directly in college-level courses while receiving related developmental education support at the same time. This support may come in the form of a separate course section with a different instructor or be offered in the same class with the same instructor.
Experiments evaluating the use of MMA instead of a test-based system have shown that it helps more students progress in college. Specifically, students bumped up from prerequisite developmental courses to college-level courses because of an MMA system are more likely to complete college-level courses than similar students assigned to developmental education. These studies, however, took place in a prerequisite remediation context—that is, in situations where developmental courses were required before students could enroll in college-level courses. Today, more and more colleges are adopting corequisite remediation in place of traditional sequential coursework, and some states are mandating that colleges adopt corequisite models.
Both corequisite remediation and MMA have been shown to get more students into college-level courses quickly and to help more students pass those courses. Indeed, colleges may already view corequisite remediation as the solution to the developmental placement problem since students receiving it are able to take college-level courses right away. But students who do not need corequisite support courses yet receive them may be spending extra time and money on them needlessly, slowing their progress in college. Meanwhile, those who do need corequisite remediation but do not get it may not have adequate preparation to succeed in their college-level courses. One strategy to better identify which students should go into corequisite courses is to employ MMA, but most of what is known about good MMA implementation was learned when prerequisite remediation was the norm. For that reason, more research on the state of developmental education placement and course offerings is needed, as are updated evidence and implementation guidance. This brief summarizes findings from two surveys that show both corequisite and MMA practices are on the rise nationally, making it even more important to understand how best to implement these two practices together. This brief also introduces a study that will provide rigorous evidence related to that question.