WCC looks into replacing Compass test

Graphic: 1500 students (58%) placed below college level math, 600 (26%) placed below college level writing, and 500 (21%) placed below college level reading.

Graphic showing how many students placed below college level for math, writing, and reading

By Brittany Dekorte
Staff Writer

A group of instructors from varying departments, lead by Dean Kristin Good, announced their plans to redo WCC’s placement tests Washtenaw Community College’s Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 27.

“To give you a sense of how many students need a placement test, of the about 3400 students who come to Washtenaw each year, about two-thirds of them need some sort of placement,” Good said as she began the presentation.

Since 1999, WCC has used the compass test to give students base level scores in reading, writing, English as a Second Language (ESL) and math, along with assessments of ACT/SAT scores and high school GPAs.

“We got word really about a year ago that Compass made a statement that said, ‘Compass doesn’t work. Compass does not accurately predict success in college,’” Good said. Customer feedback and post secondary trends have shown the Compass is no longer an effective placement test.

In Autumn of 2015, shortly after the state of Michigan announced the switch from ACT to SAT testing for high schoolers, each academic area went to work to find an individualized, ‘best practice’ way to going about placement testing.

WCC instructors Jessica Hale and Julie Kissel lead off with reading and writing. The text chosen was the Accuplacer.

“There is not a nationally accepted standard for, or something that everyone is using for, these Accuplacer tests, and there are other tests out there, but we felt that the Accuplacer based on its national and state usage is the best fit for where we are at WCC, ” said Hale.

Hale and Kissel compiled data about the Accuplacer’s test scores and success data, and compared it to classes at WCC. The Accuplacer is changing soon, but they plan on doing a test run with the newest version.

“The test isn’t perfect by any means, but hopefully this new version will fit our needs better,” Kissel added.

Representing ESL was instructor Heather Zettlemaier, discussing the chosen Cambridge Michigan Language Assessments (CaMLA).

“The test works off of listening, grammar, and reading, but there are a few small differences. That it is a timed test, 60 minutes, and unlike the Compass where they could take each part separately, they must take the full 60 minute test,” Zettlemaier said; CaMLA is already used by many of WCC’s sister institutions, and is very flexible.

“CaMLA is put out by a local business in downtown Ann Arbor, who we have worked with in the past, and they have made nationally and internationally acclaimed tests for English as a Second Language,” Zettlemaier said.

The final placement test that was presented was for mathematics; Professor Lisa Rombes spoke about ALEKS, which stands for Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces.

“The test works on Knowledge Space Theory, which can figure out what the student knows in 30 questions or less.” Rombes said. “This ALEKS test includes five placement tests, and all of the material ends with ‘you just took a placement test, it is not final.’ Included in their placement test is 314 topics in a pie chart that they can work on to improve next time they take it. No one’s placement in that is final.”

The ALEKS test will be paired with a one credit hour class, Math 099, and they will have access to the ALEKS tests and practice modules for up to six months. According to Rombes, WCC will be one of the first two year schools to jump into the ALEKS test.

“Our goal is to keep moving the needle on what improves student success,” Good said at the conclusion of the presentation.

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