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Flexibility with Cut Scores

Placement policies often utilize a set of college readiness threshold scores (e.g., high school grade point average of 2.7, ACT score of 18).  State policies vary in the way these thresholds are determined, with some granting institutions complete control to determine the levels, some providing limited flexibility in determining or using these levels, and others requiring institutions to use state-determined college readiness threshold scores.

Institutional Response to Flexibility in State or System College Readiness Threshold Scores

In states that allow for institutional flexibility, campuses have responded in a variety of ways to ensure that college readiness threshold scores are as accurate as possible in placing students. Examples include the following:

  • “Bubble score” range: In Texas, state policy mandates a college readiness threshold score for each measure, but gives institutions flexibility to determine a “bubble score” just below the threshold score on the state placement test. Students scoring within the bubble score at Brazosport College meet with an advisor who assesses a student’s level of college course readiness on a set of additional measures, as outlined in state policy, including: (1) high school GPA (institutionally determined) and class ranking; (2) prior academic coursework and/or workplace experiences; (3) non-cognitive factors (e.g., motivation, self-efficacy); and (4) family-life issues (e.g., job, childcare, transportation, finances).
  • Secondary cut scores to determine eligibility for co-requisite supports: The University System of Georgia’s (USG) multiple measures policy involves multiple college readiness threshold scores based on indexes combining groupings of tests and high school GPA. While the system determined the index score for college readiness, institutions have the authority to determine a second threshold to determine if a student can take college-level courses with additional supports, such as a co-requisite course.
  • Cut score adjustments based on outcomes: Massachusetts state policy recommended GPA college readiness thresholds to guide student placement but allowed institutions final say. Early data analysis on student performance led Middlesex Community College to make adjustments to high school GPA thresholds, opting to stop placing students in college-level math based on GPAs between 2.4 and 2.7 after the data showed that students in that range were struggling in their course work. Similarly, both the USG and the College of Coastal Georgia used student-level outcomes data to regularly assess college readiness threshold scores, and they have made changes to ensure that students were appropriately placed.

Lessons Learned

  • States and systems can provide institutions with the flexibility to assess and adjust their placement and academic supports. While it is common for states and systems to determine what constitutes college readiness, allowing institutions the flexibility to identify students below these thresholds who may be placed more accurately based on additional placement measures or benefit from additional supports along with college-level courses may help improve college completion rates.  Students close to college-readiness thresholds may benefit from a closer look at their capabilities. Bubble scores can help institutions identify students who would benefit from an additional level of placement measures, giving institutions the opportunity to further evaluate if a student is college ready.