Amelia Herring

Student placement: are they in the right place?

Student placement: are they in the right place?
Amelia Herring
For a rising freshman in college, it's hard to know where you should end up. That's why student placement tests exist.

The purpose of any student placement test is to provide institutions with data for appropriate course placement and subsequent instructional decisions.

Each test item assesses the knowledge and skills of incoming college students and supplies targeted feedback to address each student’s unique learning needs. With the knowledge gained from placement tests, administrators can properly place students in courses suited to their individual skills and abilities, giving your students a better chance at achieving their academic goals.

Customizing Student Placement with Faculty’s Help

Building a custom placement test allows your institution to develop a sophisticated measurement instrument that accurately assesses students’ capabilities and drops them off at the exact spot in your course sequence that is most appropriate for them. By writing specific test questions best suited for each particular objective and outcome in your courses, you can gain an accurate diagnosis of students’ knowledge in less time than is typically required in standard tests. Tapping into your faculty to write test items that pack such a punch is key, because “faculty – and only faculty – have the special expertise required to formulate and implement educationally sound academic and curricular policy: faculty are essential custodians of all aspects of academic policy” (Schuster and Finkelstein, 2006).

Benchmarking and Outcomes Become Fluid

By tailoring a custom test that aligns seamlessly to curriculum through the expert insights of faculty, institutions gain the ability to create more meaningful benchmarks and measure student outcomes more precisely. Students and faculty can benefit from diagnostic benchmarks that reflect the same benchmarks in their courses, which helps them ensure they are filling in the gaps in their knowledge. Then, at the end of the course, faculty administer a final exam that functions as an extension of the placement exam to determine if they have mastered the material and can advance in the course sequence. Subsequent courses are built upon these early benchmarks, which results in a fluid assessment process that starts with course placement and flows unobstructed through the student’s tenure at your institution.

The Difference of Faculty-Powered Diagnostics

When faculty members help write your institution’s placement test, they trust and find more value in the diagnostic reports that are generated. This is reasonable to expect because “faculty-led initiatives have the advantage of earning buy-in from those who will carry out the core responsibilities” (Keenan, 2007). On custom test reports, faculty only see the data that they have deemed useful to them, their students, and their institution. And if you can develop diagnostic reporting with drill-down capabilities to enable access to all information collected at a granular level, imagine what a clearer picture of student ability your faculty can see.

The Value of Trust

Trusting the quality of the test because it has been developed by faculty means that your institution will suffer less from disputes over student placement. And trusting the value of the diagnostic reports helps faculty use them more effectively, such as to identify specific areas where students require differentiated instructional interventions. This means more students will receive instruction at their personal level of need, which will result in better retention, engagement, and achievement.

Retaining students is crucial in boosting completion and transfer rates, which are essential to ensuring the growth and success of your institution. Through custom placement testing and faculty-powered development, students will thrive in learning environments where they never feel “out of place”.

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