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A national public policy initiative to improve developmental studies in postsecondary education

The Impact of Common Core College Readiness Exams

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If you have not been tracking the latest developments around the Common Core State Standards, it is high time that you should.   The new world order will undoubtedly impact developmental education as we know it.  Case and point will be the new college readiness exams being built by the two federally funded assessment consortia: PARCC and Smarter Balanced.

For many, a critical lynchpin to the common core standards is the extent that the standards are recognized by higher education and used to determine readiness for postsecondary education.  After all, if higher education does not acknowledge the standards as an accurate measure of what students need to know to be successful in college, then many students will be faced with the same challenges of learning one set of skills and then and being asked to show readiness for college on a different set of skills.

To be fair, the standards were specifically designed for college readiness and to date there has not been a compelling case made that the standards do not hit the mark as an articulation of what it takes to be college ready.  In fact, many higher education institutions are recognizing that the standards are actually higher in some areas than they currently required.

The real challenge is how to assess college readiness. The hope of the two assessment consortia is that the college readiness exams that both are developing will be recognized by higher education institutions as an appropriate tool to indicate that a given student is ready for college level work. It is safe to say that this evolution will take time and may be a long slow process of getting buy-in state by state, institution by institution.

Yet another issue is how the college readiness assessments will be aligned with the college placement exams at college campuses. According to Allison Jones at Achieve, Inc. the PARCC exam will not be designed to replace current college placement assessments such as the Accuplacer or COMPASS to place students into specific developmental education courses and the exam will not have a diagnostic component.  However, the exam will be used as an initial placement tool to determine whether a student is ready for college level work or requires some form of remedial instruction. For a full explanation of the intended use of the college readiness exam for college readiness, we encourage you to read this explanation from Dr. Jones. Smarter Balanced on the other hand has not made any decisions on how their college readiness assessment could be designed to serve as a college placement tool.

In any event, as systems and institutions go through the process of evaluating their current placement exams and consider a move to more diagnostic tools, it makes sense that they take a good hard look at the common core standards and how they might inform the development of competencies for developmental education. A logical step for higher education leaders is to engage your state representatives who are involved with either the PARCC or Smarter Balanced deliberations to explore how the college readiness assessment may impact college placement processes.

Both the Smarter Balanced and PARCC assessments are still off into the future – with full implementation anywhere from 2-4 years away. Nevertheless it seems to make some sense, particularly for those engaging in developmental education reform, to do the work now to align common core standards with developmental education competencies on your campuses.