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New Math Self-Assessment Recognized in Phase 2 Advisory Report

October 26, 2021

MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. – As many community colleges pivoted to remote admissions processes during the COVID-19 pandemic, they were required to find new ways to evaluate students for appropriate placement into their courses, SUNY Orange’s innovative math placement self-assessment program has received particular attention from Phase 2 Advisory in its recent report “Developmental Education Self-Placement Approaches: Considerations When Designing with Equity in Mind.”

The Phase 2 report highlighted placement strategies enacted during the pandemic by SUNY Orange, the Virginia Community College System, Santiago Canyon College (Calif.) and Community College of Baltimore County (Md.).

According to the report, the self-placement approach, in which students take an active role in the placement process, has been shown in some instances to increase the proportion of entering students placing directly into college-level courses. Colleges have been experimenting with new placement programs for several reasons beyond the impact of the pandemic: there is clear evidence that that placement tests are poorly predictive of college success and traditional placement mechanisms have over-placed Black, Hispanic, low-income and first-generation students into developmental education, thereby increasing the cost of their college educations while reducing the likelihood they will earn a college degree.

The SUNY Orange self-assessment process, which has replaced the Accuplacer exam that was given exclusively through the Fall 2019 semester, invites students to complete a questionnaire that collects their past courses and grades, high school grade point average, and comfort level with math. The survey offers sample math problems and asks students to assess how easily they could complete them. Survey results are placed into an Excel formula, developed by the math department, that generates a placement for the student.

Early results are promising, as placement in developmental math courses has been cut by one-third in two years, from 30.2 percent of students placing into developmental math in the Fall 2019 semester compared to 20.1 percent for this current Fall semester. By comparison, 40.4 percent of students tested into developmental courses in Fall 2018.

Certainly, more data analysis is necessary to fully evaluate the effectiveness of the change, but the College is already considering improvements to the process. With a year under its belt, the College’s Math Department is piloting new questions for the survey and assessing other factors that will more accurately allow the College to place students at the appropriate course level where they can be both challenged and successful.

“Our Mathematics faculty and leadership have truly seized the opportunity to thoughtfully design improvements to our placement process, informed by research and motivated by their desire to support students’ successful course completion, said Erika Hackman, vice president for academic affairs. “I am confident that their creative, innovative, and equity-minded approach will continue to increase our students’ success in their studies and, ultimately, their degree completion.”

The placement assessment is a requirement of the admissions process. For more information, contact the SUNY Orange Admissions Office at (845) 341-4030.