Why Acceleration Works

Published apr. 06, 2016

Source: Community College Research Center 

Using a cut score of 45, under which students would be placed in remediation, the data show that students who score between 40 and 50 have an equal chance of earning a C or better in the gateway course. Clearly, a default placement in the gateway math course is the appropriate placement for students scoring between 40 and the cut score of 45. Even the “college ready” students, the band from 45–50, could likely benefit from embedded supports. 

We have established the basis for the recommendation for the default placement in college-level courses, but what about students who score significantly beneath the placement cut score? Is a default placement in a college-level course appropriate for them? Let’s consult the data.

Is Acceleration for Everyone? 

In studies that have examined lower cut scores, the analysis focused on the margin between the top-level and mid-level developmental education and the margin between mid-level and lower-level developmental education. These studies are not about success in the college-level gateway course; they ask, if a student is on the margin of a cut score between two different levels of developmental education, does taking an extra level of developmental education—three courses versus two courses, for instance—increase the student’s chances for success? 

For upper-level and mid-level developmental education, researchers examined cut scores as low as 29 on COMPASS pre-algebra/arithmetic. To examine the margin between mid-level and lower-level developmental education, researchers analyzed cut scores as low as 17 on COMPASS pre-algebra/arithmetic. In both cases, the studies found that students do not benefit from being placed in the lower levels of developmental education. More is not better. 

While this is an important finding and a strong argument for acceleration, it does not suggest that a default placement in a college-level course with supports is right for all students. 

So what should be done with students for whom the default placement is not appropriate? This question is addressed by Principle Four in the Core Principles, which is the subject of my next blog. 

This is the third in a series by Michael Collins. To read the fourth blog in this series, please click here

Read his statement on the release of the Core Principles.