What Works Now: Predictive Placement at Long Beach City College

June 26th, 2013
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Audrey Dow
Senior Advisor

June 26, 2013 | Written by: Audrey Dow, Community Affairs Director, Campaign for College Opportunity

California, like the rest of the nation, has been said to have an “epidemic of the under-prepared,” that is, an unusually high number of students entering college unprepared for college level work. A 2010 EdSource study found that half of all first-time students at a California Community College were enrolled in a remedial course and many of them in more than one subject area. The truth, however, is that many colleges have significantly more than half of their students assessing into pre-college level work.

The lynchpin of the current system is the standardized placement test. Students’ performance on a math, English, or ESL placement test determines, to a significant degree, their educational futures. These high stakes tests determine when or if a student will ever be able to get to college level math or English and, at many colleges, it also determines whether or not a student can enroll in other courses on campus.

When a student assesses into pre-college level coursework, they will likely spend several semesters in courses that don’t count toward transfer or an associate degree before ever reaching college level work. In some scenarios, a student may have to take up to eight courses of pre-college level math before reaching their first college level course. Research has shown that students assessed as underprepared for college level courses and placed into pre-college level English or math face a disproportionately difficult challenge at ever successfully completing a certificate, degree, or transfer pathway.

Unfortunately for students, standardized placement tests may not be the best predictors of student capacity. Studies from the Community College Research Center have found that community colleges across the country unnecessarily place tens of thousands of entering students in remedial classes and that their placement decisions would be just as good if the campus relied on high school grade point averages instead of the tests.

Taking into account the challenges with placement tests and the large number of students deemed “unprepared” by the test, Long Beach City College (LBCC) launched a Predictive Placement Pilot. The Predictive Placement Pilot is part of the Promise Pathways initiative, an ongoing collaboration between LBCC and Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) that focuses on preparation for college-level coursework, progression towards academic goals, and completion of certificates, degrees and/or transfer for students in the region. The premise of the Predictive Placement Pilot is to use student performance in high school (through GPA, grades, and standardized test scores) to predict college academic success and place students in college level courses. LBCC believes the more data they can use to place students, the more precise the placement will be, which will lead to greater student success. The stakes are high: when relying primarily upon standardized tests, over 90% of first-time college students assess into pre-college level English or math at Long Beach City College (LBCC). Initial results indicate that significant increases in college placement and successful course completions are possible using a new placement model based on students’ performance in high school.


High school grades, GPA, and standardized test scores are used to determine a student’s placement into college level English and math instead of relying primarily upon standardized placement tests.
All first-time college students at LBCC from LBUSD (1,600) were offered an option to participate in the Predictive Placement Pilot; 976 LBUSD graduates agreed to participate in the LBCC Predictive Placement pilot.


The Predictive Placement Pilot has shown some significant success in its first year. Overall, more students are attempting college-level work directly out of high school using the pilot model and a greater number of students were successful at completing a transfer level math or English course.



LBUSD provides all the data on student performance to LBCC at no cost.
The LBCC Institutional Research Office created a program to integrate all of the LBUSD data to produce individual student placements in English and Math. Existing resources within the Institutional Research Office covered the workload to create the program.
Implementing the Predictive Placement Pilot requires no additional time for LBCC staff. In fact, LBCC believes in the long run, the new method will save students time in terms of test taking and administrators’ time because they won’t have to proctor exams.“

The success of the Promise Pathways initiative is impressive and has already produced tangible results for hundreds of local students,” said LBCC President Eloy Ortiz Oakley. “Rethinking the way we place students is an essential part of meeting our nation’s completion goals and the model we developed at LBCC provides clear evidence that significant gains in student achievement are possible at similar community colleges in California and across the nation.”

LBCC is looking to expand the Predictive Placement Pilot to include other local school districts next year as well as include students who start in the Spring semester.

For more information on Promise Pathways and the Predictive Placement Pilot, please contact:
Mark W. Taylor, Director, College Advancement, Public Affairs, & Governmental Relations
Long Beach City College

About the Author:

Audrey Dow is the Community Affairs Director for The Campaign for College Opportunity.

Click here to read her bio.