by Paul Lingenfelter
Paul E. Lingenfelter is president emeritus of the State Higher Education Executive Officers association. He is now on the board of PARCC, Inc., a non-profit organization.
Earlier this month, higher education leaders in Colorado took a significant step to close the persistent gap between the number of students who enroll in college and the number who graduate.
Officials at the Colorado Department of Higher Education and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) on March 8 announced that Adams State University and Aims Community College will begin using PARCC, the state’s K-12 assessment of college and career readiness, to determine whether entering college freshman are prepared to take college level courses.
This makes Adams State and Aims the first colleges in the state and the nation to agree to use or validate PARCC as a college readiness assessment to determine which students need remediation.
Why is this progress? PARCC assessments, administered through high school and aligned with the requirements for success in college, provide feedback to students long before high school graduation. High school students and their teachers will know well in advance whether they are prepared or on track to being prepared for college-credit bearing courses.
If they are ready, students will face less placement testing and will save money by avoiding required remedial courses that do not count toward a degree or certificate. If not, they will have guidance to identify the gaps in the knowledge and skills they need and time to fill the gaps while still in high school.
In Colorado, fewer than one in 10 community college students who begin college in remedial courses complete a degree in three years and fewer than one-quarter of students who begin college at four-year institutions complete a degree in six years, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit focused on growing college completion. Far too many of these students never complete a two- or four-year credential at all.
What can reduce the need for remediation? Part of the answer is making sure high school instruction is focused on helping students acquire and become able to use the knowledge and skill in mathematics and language required for success in college and in well-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree. Poorly crafted, overly broad, multiple choice assessments, designed largely for accountability, have not been helpful.
Under the current system, students are often required to take multiple high school exams plus college-administered readiness exams after they’ve completed high school. Without knowing what to expect, many students are surprised to discover they are required to complete remedial courses as freshmen before they may take college credit-bearing courses. By using PARCC tests, aligned to postsecondary expectations, institutions and students will be able to reduce or eliminate the need for placement tests after admission.
Higher education leaders and faculty helped establish the learning objectives and craft the PARCC assessments, based on what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college. The PARCC assessments and the standards or learning objectives they target, were designed by K-12 and postsecondary leaders to reduce the confusion, inefficiency, and ineffectiveness of the multiple assessments previously employed in states. While PARCC is a better assessment, that was not the main objective. The main objective is to help more students acquire the knowledge and skills they need.
Higher education leaders, along with K-12 leaders, realize that the global economy demands more of our people and of our schools and colleges. All of our graduates need the knowledge, understanding, and skill required to solve unscripted problems and thrive in a complicated world. Life is not a multiple-guess test. Students deserve assessments that will help them use their K-12 years to prepare for what comes next.
Adams State University and Aims Community College are pioneers in beginning to employ the PARCC assessments for student placement, but I don’t believe they will be lonely for long. The more colleges and universities learn about the potential of these assessments, the more they will like them.