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Assessments “Outside the Box”

States and systems engaged in multiple measures reform commonly use a range of assessments to place students, including SAT and ACT scores, high school achievement tests, and high school grade point average, among others. They also continue to rely on placement testing as a last resort for students unable to provide evidence of college readiness through other measures. Yet some institutions employ more innovative assessment tools, as described below.

  • Diagnostic math assessments: At both Kent State University (KSU) in Ohio and Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC) in Missouri, math placement is determined using the ALEKS[1] diagnostic assessment.  At OTC, once classes begin, students are given the ALEKS test in math classes to gather further information to determine final placement. At Highline College in Washington, students who did not qualify for credit-bearing courses based on their high school transcript, Smarter Balanced Assessment, or Advanced Placement scores were placed based on the MyMathTest, a diagnostic test designed to assess specific math skills.
  • Essay prompts: At OTC, if a student does not have either a recent ACT or placement test score, s/he is given an essay prompt. At KSU-Stark, students earning scores just below the college-readiness threshold on the placement test complete a campus-developed essay prompt scored by KSU-Stark English and writing faculty that is used to make the final placement decision. Students with a placement test score below the college readiness threshold can take an online writing challenge developed for use across KSU campuses as a final opportunity to establish college readiness.
  • Self-Directed Placement processes: OTC allows students to take the lead in determining their course placement through a voluntary, self-directed online process that provides course descriptions and guiding questions designed to help them assess their own college readiness. Beginning in 2015-16, some Highline College students[2] piloted a guided self-placement platform for English placement. The self-placement process walks students through the course content and expectations for English 101 in a series of interactive steps.
  • GED scores: With the development of the 2014 GED that was designed to be aligned with college and career readiness expectations, students submitting an honors-level score are eligible for placement in college-level courses at Highline College.
  • Non-cognitive measures: The Texas Success Initiative provides institutional flexibility to determine a “bubble score” just below the cut score for college readiness; students scoring within the bubble score could be placed based on non-cognitive measures outlined in state policy, such as workplace experience, motivation, self-efficacy and family-life issues.
  • Placement based on Math Pathway: In addition, math course placement varied on some campuses based on a student’s desired course of study or intended major. For example, at Highline College, whether a student took MyMath test 1, 2, 3 and/or 4 was based on planned course of math study and required cut scores varied based on the class or degree track of the student. At KSU, students took the ALEKS placement test if their intended major required Algebra, regardless of whether they had met the statewide college readiness threshold on the SAT or ACT.


  1. Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces (ALEKS) is an online diagnostic assessment and instructional system that uses adaptive questioning to determine student skills sets and then instructs the student on the topics s/he is most ready to learn through online modules.
  2. 110 students in 2015-16