Panel Paper: The Effectiveness of An Intervention to Address Misplacement in Developmental Education

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 3:50 PM
Georgetown I (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lindsay Daugherty, RAND Corporation and Bridget Terry Long, Harvard University
Developmental education plays a substantial role in U.S. postsecondary education.  Freshman remediation rates are estimated at 30 to 50 percent, with the highest rates of remediation for students attending two-year colleges (Bailey, 2009; Horn & Neville, 2006; Parsad & Lewis, 2003; Scott-Clayton & Rodriguez, 2012).  Developmental education is also costly, with estimates ranging from $1 billion to $3 billion per year (Noble, Schiel, & Sawyer, 2004).  However, the evidence on the impact of developmental education is mixed, and most studies show no positive impact on student outcomes (Bettinger & Long, 2005; Calcagno & Long, 2008; Martorell & McFarlin, 2011).

A lack of consensus about how to define and measure college readiness has resulted in wide variation in the standards colleges use for placement in developmental education, leading to systems in which students of similar ability are differentially channeled into courses (Hughes & Scott-Clayton, 2011).  Recent research indicates that some of these placement policies may be unnecessarily directing large numbers of college-ready students in developmental education (Belfield & Crosta, 2012; Scott-Clayton, 2012; Scott-Clayton & Rodriguez, 2012).  Using a randomized control trial, this paper examines an intervention designed to reduce placement in developmental education for college-ready graduates from a large urban district in Texas.  For the purposes of this study, college readiness is defined as having met college ready cut scores on the state exit exam.  Postsecondary data for graduates from the district indicates that more than 18 percent of graduates who are college ready and enroll in college are placed into developmental courses because of a failure to pass placement exams. 

The intervention, serving 800 graduates, was designed to address several barriers to placement test achievement: insufficient information about developmental education and the importance of placement testing; rusty algebra skills among students who are three or four years removed from basic algebra courses; and financial constraints that prevent students from retesting.  The three-pronged intervention included (1) outreach to college-ready students with information about developmental education and placement testing; (2) a series of four-hour refresher courses; and (3) vouchers to cover the cost of testing.  Preliminary results indicate that the intervention increased the likelihood that students took the placement test by nearly 25 percent (18.9% for the treatment group versus 13.9% for the control group).   Analysis of the impact of this intervention on first semester math placement and first semester credit accumulation will be conducted when Texas state postsecondary data becomes available in early May 2013.