Jump to content

Menu

Math placement - how times have changed!


Recommended Posts

My youngest DD will be starting at the state flagship university that DH and I both attended.  I'm a bit blown away by their current math placement criteria. 

The only ways to be placed straight into calculus as a freshman include:

1. ACT math subscore of 28 or above

2. Already have college credit for precalculus

3. Score a 3 or higher on the AP calculus exam

4. Pass the CLEP precalculus exam

5. Score 80% or higher on their placement exam for calculus

So, even if a student took calculus in high school and got an A along with a 27 ACT math subscore, they would still be placed in precalculus. Many years ago, I did not have calculus in high school and had a lower math ACT subscore and was enrolled in calculus my first semester.  How times have changed!

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I took calculus my first semester as a freshman.  I CLEP'ed out of college algebra, hadn't taken any math since my junior year (Algebra 3/Trig) of high school, and I was placed in calculus.  I passed but barely, with a very low C.   In my case, it was a huge mistake.  Precalculus would have been a much better idea.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The math placement is different at several colleges dd #1 has looked at. One places based on ACT score. Two others strictly on their placement exam. One is a combo road like the above - with the understanding that AP scores may not be in when registration happens in the summer so they might have to change your classes when the score comes in. (Makes planning a bit difficult.)

Foreign language placement is also a hodgepodge. Can't believe how wildly different colleges can be. I thought it would be based on an interview or placement test, but one place doesn't do either (according to the website) - they just place based on number of years of high school language. Some are a hodge podge of CLEP, AP, or their placement test results.

Link to post
Share on other sites

One of the possible ways is by placement test.  What other way are you thinking about that isn't offered?  I was under the impression that at most colleges, a math placement test is to be expected, unless the student has AP credit.

Quote

So, even if a student took calculus in high school and got an A along with a 27 ACT math subscore, they would still be placed in precalculus. 

Shouldn't the student who took calc in high school be able to pass the placement test (that is likely precalc content)?

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

I think she was thinking that if you took Calc already (and passed), you should at least be able to register for Calc 1 (if not 2). And, there is something to be said for forgetting some of the precalc and alg 2 content after a year or more. (I passed the placement test after two years away from precalc content, but I know many who weren't able to and had to rely on their AP Calc AB score to save their math placement.)

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Well I went to a large public engineering program within a major university and the requirements were lower back in the day.  But it wasn't unusual for 50%+ of very large calc 1 sections to drop or fail either.   Which could eventually lead to a major change.  I think they're setting kids up for a better chance of success and doing the filtering on the front end now.   

The ACT is just testing through pre-calc.  I think 28 is a good threshold score for calc.  You need a very good grounding of the math concepts to do well on the ACT.  No time to hem and haw.  

ETA - I would actually be fine with options for getting into calc.   I don't think the ACT is extra magical.  Something  like 28 ACT OR 4 or 5 on the AP Calc  OR pass a pre-calc class in a college setting OR passing a placement test.  

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, wapiti said:

Shouldn't the student who took calc in high school be able to pass the placement test (that is likely precalc content)?

No - because math in schools is not taught to long term retention. Students who spent a year on calculus often have forgotten most of their trigonomtry.

Our students have to take a placement test that covers algebra and trigonometry. We routinely have students who have AP Calc credit but fail the trigonometry test. They are put into an orientation week workshop to shore up their trig and can retest at the end of O-week; if they pass, they can go on to whatever calc they placed in.

 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Pegasus said:

My youngest DD will be starting at the state flagship university that DH and I both attended.  I'm a bit blown away by their current math placement criteria. 

The only ways to be placed straight into calculus as a freshman include:

1. ACT math subscore of 28 or above

2. Already have college credit for precalculus

3. Score a 3 or higher on the AP calculus exam

4. Pass the CLEP precalculus exam

5. Score 80% or higher on their placement exam for calculus

So, even if a student took calculus in high school and got an A along with a 27 ACT math subscore, they would still be placed in precalculus.

No, you say they have the option to score well enough on a placement exam. If they can demonstrate precalc mastery that way, they would place into calc.

It is wise for colleges NOT to rely on the fact that somewhere on the highschol transcript it says "precalc" It does not mean that the student has mastered precalculus and is prepared to succeed in calc.

Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, regentrude said:

No, you say they have the option to score well enough on a placement exam. If they can demonstrate precalc mastery that way, they would place into calc.

It is wise for colleges NOT to rely on the fact that somewhere on the highschol transcript it says "precalc" It does not mean that the student has mastered precalculus and is prepared to succeed in calc.

While I do agree with what everyone is saying, including the above, I think it is disappointing that doing well in a solid high school precalculus program can not be assumed to properly prepare a student to start college with calculus.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
52 minutes ago, Pegasus said:

While I do agree with what everyone is saying, including the above, I think it is disappointing that doing well in a solid high school precalculus program can not be assumed to properly prepare a student to start college with calculus.

 

This is the problem. The college has no way to know that the school didn't just pad grades and did not offer a solid program. If a student actually did well, he or she will be able to demonstrate it on the placement test. I would assume that a placement test for calculus is basically a final for pre-calculus. If a student can't make an 80 on that, then he or she doesn't need to take calculus yet. 

  • Like 9
Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Pegasus said:

While I do agree with what everyone is saying, including the above, I think it is disappointing that doing well in a solid high school precalculus program can not be assumed to properly prepare a student to start college with calculus.

Having taken a class does not mean the student has managed to retain the material long term. Whether long term retention has happened is ascertained by means of the placement test. Students who mastered the material will pass the placement test. Students who crammed for the exams and then forgot everything won't. What good would it do to let these unprepared students take calculus and fail?

Everybody knows that it is possible to pass high school classes with good grades without achieving thorough mastery. Since there are neither a national curriculum standard nor standardized high school exit exams, colleges cannot assume anything about the students' preparation, but have to verify.

 

  • Like 6
Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Pegasus said:

While I do agree with what everyone is saying, including the above, I think it is disappointing that doing well in a solid high school precalculus program can not be assumed to properly prepare a student to start college with calculus.

 

 

A couple years ago I read a detailed page on a college's website about their math placement policy.  It tried to gently explain why students were placed the way they were.  In short, they didn't want a student to get part way through a course and realize that they were floundering.  This often left them dropping the class or earning a bad grade.  If the next semester had them taking a lower level course in order to get the foundation needed to pass the course they'd failed to master, this could leave them a full year behind instead of just a semester.

I also think the bolded above has some assumptions.  Is doing well a high A?  Or a low B? Did the student retain what they learned or forget it right after the test?  Did the precalculus course include all of the material needed for the next phase or did it leave out some content?  These are the types of things that a placement test is designed to figure out.

I think it also matters if a student needs one semester of calculus to meet their college degree requirements or if they are taking calculus as the first of several increasingly difficult math courses.  My CS student kid found that a large number of students in his university calc 1 class had previously taken calculus.  

FWIW, I would probably reorder the criteria for placing into the calculus class and have the placement test be first.  If a student didn't score an 80% on the placement test (ie, 80% mastery of the course prerequisite material), then here are other criteria for placing the student into calculus (based on other college credit or other standardized test scores).

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

On a side topic, there is a debate within college admin and faculty communities about math placement.  Some encourage any student to be placed into a college level math course, regardless of their preparation or placement test results.  Their argument is that students may not have done well in high school or on the placement test, but will benefit from exposure to the college level math course, even if they fail it.  They also argue that for those students who do pass (even if it is with a C), at least they earned college credit for that time.

The other side argues that students who need remedial instruction in math should be placed into those classes and taught the material needed in order to progress.  For them, even if a student has a semester or two in which they don't earn college level course credit, they are gaining the knowledge and understanding to progress further in the end.  

I've seen this debate at play in our own community college system.  The system wanted to eliminate any course offering below Math 100.  One branch (that my students have attended) held the line on continuing to offer courses below Math 100.  My kids' math instructors at the time were both appalled by the idea that students would be placed into Math 100, even if they were not at all ready for it.  Their concern was that the actual result would be a significant number of students dropping out of college entirely when faced with a first semester math class that was over their heads. 

The high school closest to us had 36% meet proficiency on the math assessment in high school.  When I looked at scores for all the high schools in our small state the range was 12%-57%.  The bulk of high schools has 20-35% meeting proficiency.  Only two high schools were over 50%.  82% will graduate from high school (despite their lack of math proficiency).

I realize this is somewhat disconnected from your OP.  I think it relates to different philosophies that are out there about how to help students succeed in college.

  • Like 4
Link to post
Share on other sites

I should add that there is also criticism of the math placement test process on the basis that it under places students in math courses they don't need.  I do think that it is helpful to allow a student to retake a placement exam, although there isn't always enough time for this in the standard summer orientation fall start model.  Sometimes it helps motivate a student to refresh their understanding of material to see that their placement is below what they'd hoped for.

I would also endorse a system in which a student could challenge the placement and spend a couple weeks in a course if that is where they think they should be.  This would only work at schools that are big enough to allow students to shift courses in the first couple weeks.  At our small community college, I don't know that there were enough math sections to support this without an impact on the rest of the student's schedule.  At the end of this early probationary period, the student should have demonstrated their ability to stick out the course or be shifted to a more appropriate course.

As an aside, our family's first experience with a college math class was a community college precalculus course my son was in as a DE student.  There were two sections with a total of 60 students at the beginning of the semester.  The term ended with about 1/3 that number of students remaining.  Many students missed a great number of class sessions.  Only 4 students from either section came to the end of course final exam review (held during the period the class was normally held).  

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
50 minutes ago, Sebastian (a lady) said:

I should add that there is also criticism of the math placement test process on the basis that it under places students in math courses they don't need.  I do think that it is helpful to allow a student to retake a placement exam, although there isn't always enough time for this in the standard summer orientation fall start model.  Sometimes it helps motivate a student to refresh their understanding of material to see that their placement is below what they'd hoped for.

I would also endorse a system in which a student could challenge the placement and spend a couple weeks in a course if that is where they think they should be.  This would only work at schools that are big enough to allow students to shift courses in the first couple weeks.  At our small community college, I don't know that there were enough math sections to support this without an impact on the rest of the student's schedule.  At the end of this early probationary period, the student should have demonstrated their ability to stick out the course or be shifted to a more appropriate course.

At our college, different options exist for students who fail the placement tests, depending on how bad the scores were: they are either placed in Remedial algebra, one semester course in College algebra, or one semester course combined college algebra refresher and trig.

If they only bum the trig test mildly, they have the option of doing a  trig review workshop during orientation week, the week that precedes classes, and at the end are retested; if they have improved sufficiently, they are allowed to go on to calc.

Students placing in remedial algebra or college algebra are required to take a problem solving workshop in orientation week, to shore up their math skills and prepare them for these classes.

ETA: And then they have developed a useful tool for students who place in calculus, but are on the path to failing after the second exam. They are offered to go into a "success for calculus" track that shores up their weaknesses; they do not have to drop the course and can keep the credit hours, so they don't have to be worried about losing FT student status, but the grade is pass/fail. they then retake calc 1 the following semester.

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites
11 minutes ago, regentrude said:

At our college, different options exist for students who fail the placement tests, depending on how bad the scores were: they are either placed in Remedial algebra, one semester course in College algebra, or one semester course combined college algebra refresher and trig.

If they only bum the trig test mildly, they have the option of doing a  trig review workshop during orientation week, the week that precedes classes, and at the end are retested; if they have improved sufficiently, they are allowed to go on to calc.

Students placing in remedial algebra or college algebra are required to take a problem solving workshop in orientation week, to shore up their math skills and prepare them for these classes.

ETA: And then they have developed a useful tool for students who place in calculus, but are on the path to failing after the second exam. They are offered to go into a "success for calculus" track that shores up their weaknesses; they do not have to drop the course and can keep the credit hours, so they don't have to be worried about losing FT student status, but the grade is pass/fail. they then retake calc 1 the following semester.

 

Those sound like some creative ways of working with students to develop their skills for future use.   I like the awareness of the impact of dropping a course on FT status.  That can have other ramifications on things like insurance coverage.  And I think it's probably better to keep the student in a math class, working on what they need to know, rather than have them stop taking any math until the beginning of the next semester.

Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, Sebastian (a lady) said:

Those sound like some creative ways of working with students to develop their skills for future use.   I like the awareness of the impact of dropping a course on FT status.  That can have other ramifications on things like insurance coverage.  And I think it's probably better to keep the student in a math class, working on what they need to know, rather than have them stop taking any math until the beginning of the next semester.

Exactly. And the math department's data show that students who go through the program are indeed better positioned to succeed the following semester and beyond.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Sebastian (a lady) said:

I should add that there is also criticism of the math placement test process on the basis that it under places students in math courses they don't need.  I do think that it is helpful to allow a student to retake a placement exam, although there isn't always enough time for this in the standard summer orientation fall start model.  Sometimes it helps motivate a student to refresh their understanding of material to see that their placement is below what they'd hoped for.

I would also endorse a system in which a student could challenge the placement

At our local CC, if a student doesn't test into Freshman English, they can sign a waiver if the student really disagrees with the placement. I don't know if they also allow that for math. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
On 5/7/2018 at 2:00 PM, Sebastian (a lady) said:

On a side topic, there is a debate within college admin and faculty communities about math placement.  Some encourage any student to be placed into a college level math course, regardless of their preparation or placement test results.  Their argument is that students may not have done well in high school or on the placement test, but will benefit from exposure to the college level math course, even if they fail it.  They also argue that for those students who do pass (even if it is with a C), at least they earned college credit for that time.

The other side argues that students who need remedial instruction in math should be placed into those classes and taught the material needed in order to progress.  For them, even if a student has a semester or two in which they don't earn college level course credit, they are gaining the knowledge and understanding to progress further in the end.  

I've seen this debate at play in our own community college system.  The system wanted to eliminate any course offering below Math 100.  One branch (that my students have attended) held the line on continuing to offer courses below Math 100.  My kids' math instructors at the time were both appalled by the idea that students would be placed into Math 100, even if they were not at all ready for it.  Their concern was that the actual result would be a significant number of students dropping out of college entirely when faced with a first semester math class that was over their heads. 

The high school closest to us had 36% meet proficiency on the math assessment in high school.  When I looked at scores for all the high schools in our small state the range was 12%-57%.  The bulk of high schools has 20-35% meeting proficiency.  Only two high schools were over 50%.  82% will graduate from high school (despite their lack of math proficiency).

I realize this is somewhat disconnected from your OP.  I think it relates to different philosophies that are out there about how to help students succeed in college.

What DD’s college does is to place into classes at the 1000 level, but require students below that level to do an additional course along with it, which is pre-teaching the math required down the road.  DD ended up tutoring a lot of her math classmates who had to do the support class because they found the support class (which was basically pre-algebra) harder than the college level math ed class.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

When I went to a top college, I placed into Calc I.  So did almost everybody who went to the college if they hadn't placed out of Calc altogether or placed into later quarters of Calc.  I didn't have a high math SAT score- decent but not high.  I did fine in Calc as did almost everybody else.  One of my friends was one of the people who never took calc.  She had lifelong issues with math and probably had dyscalculia but that wasn't really known in the early 80s when we were in college.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...