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Clark Finding A New Direction Without Compass

Three Compass test prep books, topped with a number 2 pencil and stack of Scantrons. Book titles are Pass the Compass, Doug French's Verbal Prep for the Compass Exam, and Forgotten Algebra by Bleau, Clemens and Clemens. The Clark College Bookstore offers materials for students preparing for the COMPASS and other tests. The ACT is phasing out the test at the end of this year. (Bailey Scully/ The Independent)

UPDATE (5/24/16 @ 12:28 p.m.): The original version of this story said the new testing procedures would cost $15 for mathematics and $30 for English.  The Independent should have reported that college officials have said the transition to a new placement format is complex and may initially be more expensive. Officials noted that down the road it might actually save more money. The English faculty will still need to evaluate the reading and writing responses.

Original Story:

For those of you who felt the Compass test incorrectly stuck you in Math 095 or other remedial courses, you might appreciate this news: the Compass test is going away.
ACT, the company that created the test, is throwing it out effective Dec. 31, citing extensive studies of the exam’s failure to accurately place students.

Compass is not contributing as effectively to student placement and success as it had in the past,” read the company’s press release.

ACT, the non-profit testing giant, isn’t the only entity to find problems with Compass. Other colleges and researchers agree it too often fails to accurately assess students’ knowledge.

This development has forced colleges around the nation to reconsider their placement test designs.

Some colleges are simply transitioning to another exam, Accuplacer, which is already used by about 62 percent of two-year colleges around the nation.

But Clark is designing its own placement protocols.

Vice President for Planning and Effectiveness Shanda Diehl said the college created a placement committee in Fall 2015 to establish timelines, evaluate research, form an implementation plan and develop evaluations of new placement options. The committee includes representatives from Student Affairs, ASCC, the Vice President of Instruction and division chairs from Math and English.

The goal is to have students taking the new assessment tool by fall, Diehl said.
Diehl and others say test-takers shouldn’t have to solve what ails Compass. “It’s not fair to force students to carry that burden,” Diehl said.

And it’s not just students who suffer from poor placement tests, said Garrett Gregor, division chair for Mathematics.

Gregor said students who either game or trick the exam — or simply pass as a false positive anomaly — require additional assistance in college-level courses. As a result, professors often must slow the pace of an already extremely time-sensitive curriculum, causing material to be rushed or omitted entirely.

Mathematics officials propose using an online test known as ALEKS PPL for their component of the test. ALEKS PPL does away with the traditional multiple-choice testing format, instead utilizing artificial intelligence to analyze and adapt questions to the test takers’ specific ability, Gregor said.

To determine a starting point, students provide information about previous education and grades. They then answer a series of short-answer and interactive questions that become easier or more difficult based on responses. In addition, students can use online learning modules to study from home and retake the exam.

The English department is considering a “multiple measures” approach in conjunction with the new Readiness Assessment, which is under development by faculty. This approach determines if students have the skills to perform in college-level English courses by first screening for prior learning, which takes into account Bridge Class grades, Smarter Balance scores, high school GPA and a number of other factors. Students bypass the Readiness Assessment entirely and enroll directly into college-level courses if they meet screening requirements.

English committee members are still fine-tuning the details of the new readiness assessment, said Elizabeth Donley, division chair of English.

Even the name of the assessment remains uncertain at this point, Donley said.
Presently, students who do not pass screening will first be given clear information of what to expect, and the skills required to be successful in college-level courses. In addition, they will also have access to learning modules in order to refresh on any material that may be a bit rusty. Once prepared, students will complete several reading comprehension questions, respond to a short essay, and provide a self assessment.

According to Diehl, the major shortfall in the transition to a new placement format is cost. Compass currently costs students $1.50 per module.  College officials said that transitioning to a new placement format is complex and may initially be more expensive.  The English faculty will need to evaluate the reading and writing responses for the exam, which is a more timely endeavor.  Officials did note however, that down the road it might actually save money. 

Currently, the Compass is paid for out of the student $25 application fee. Vice President of Instruction Tim Cook said he believes that increasing application fees to cover the cost could harm already-declining student enrollment.

“It’s really a challenge we’re looking at here,” Cook said. “How can we help students without passing on the buck?”

An alternative being considered is to cover the cost by adding a course fee to particular entry-level courses. However, that comes with its own set of complications, in that creating an equitable system can be difficult when some students must take the placement assessment while others do not.

At the same time, it is also expensive for students who are placed into remedial courses. Often times students are forced to pay for several remedial courses before they even consider taking college-level classes.

Clark student Xaavan Dolence said, “It sounds like an upfront cost at first, but in the long run it will save students money.”

There are still a large number of issues that require attention before anyone can say for certain what Clark’s new placement protocols will look like.

Fact box. Reads: When AC T officials announced they were getting rid of the Compass test, they explained they based their decision on “a thorough analysis of customer feedback, empirical evidence and postsecondary trends.” Others who know a great deal about student assessment found similar outcomes. The College Research Center at Columbia University ‘s Teachers College found in 2012 that up to a third of students who placed into remedial classes due to their Compass scores could have passed college-level classes with a grade of B or better. A Complete College America study showed that fewer than 1 in 10 students placed into remedial courses go on to complete their degree within three years. The findings of the former studies are further supported by a 2010 study conducted by Thomas Bailey and colleagues. The study sampled tens of thousands of community college students who scored low on placement tests but ignored the advice to take remedial classes and instead enrolled directly in a for-credit course. Of those students. 71 percent passed the for-credit course. That‘s not a considerable amount lower than the 77 percent pass rate for all students who took the same for-credit courses. Additionally. it‘s only slightly lower than the pass rate for students who first took and completed remedial courses As the researchers note, however. many who start in remedial classes either drop out or fail before they ever take a credit-bearing course. Factor that in. and only about 27 percent of those who agreed to take remedial courses ultimately passed for-credit courses, as opposed to the 71 percent who opted out of remediation.

 

About Chase McCreary (6 Articles)
I'm a reporter for the Clark College Independent. My interests include, rational debate, deep conversation and the outdoors. When I'm not at work I'm usually reading up on current affairs, in the gym or enjoying a hike.

1 Comment on Clark Finding A New Direction Without Compass

  1. Please match your headlines to their articles’ content. Clark isn’t “kicking out” Compass; Compass is no longer being offered as a placement tool by its company.

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