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Placement testing is about the placement tests that colleges and universities use to assess college readiness and place students into their initial classes. Since most two-year colleges have open, non-competitive admissions policies, many students are admitted even though they do not have college-level academic qualifications.

Tests primarily assess abilities in English, maths and reading and in other disciplines such as foreign languages, science, computer Internet and health. The goal is to offer low-scoring students remedial coursework so that they can undertake regular coursework. The most common tests given are College Board’s ACCUPLACER and ACT’s COMPASS, both of which are online, computer-adaptive, multiple-choice tests. Less-prepared students are placed into various remedial situations, from adult basic education through various levels of developmental college courses.

Historically, placement tests also served additional purposes such as providing individual instructors a prediction of each student’s likely academic success, sorting students into homogeneous skill groups within the same course level and introducing students to course material. Placement testing can also serve a gatekeeper function, keeping academically challenged students from progressing into college programs, particularly in competitive admissions programs such as nursing within otherwise open-entry colleges.

Cut scores” are the minimum scores used to divide students into higher and lower level courses. SMEs sort test items into categories of appropriate difficulty, or correlate item difficulty to course levels. Performance level descriptors” define the required skills for remedial and standard courses. Once in use, placement tests are assessed for the degree to which they predict the achievements of students once they have been assigned to remedial or standard classes.