College & Workforce Readiness

ACT Phases Out Compass Placement Tests

By Caralee J. Adams — June 18, 2015 2 min read
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ACT has announced it will phase out using its Compass placement tests, citing declining use and research questioning their predictive value.

Officials from the Iowa City, Iowa-based testing company said 1.7 million students took the tests in 2014, down from 1.9 million in 2013, and 2.2 million in 2012. The decision to discontinue the test by Dec. 31, 2016, was based on an analysis of customer feedback, empirical evidence and postsecondary trends, according to Ed Colby, director of public relations for ACT.

“Our analysis indicates that current placement solutions such as ACT Compass are no longer helping our customers significantly improve student placement and retention,” ACT said in a statement. “As a result of changing market conditions, the numbers of students taking ACT Compass have declined over the past few years. These decreases—in social impact and usage—made it necessary to sunset ACT Compass so we can allocate our resources toward new and more advanced solutions that better serve our mission and our customers.”

Colby said in an email that the organization was in the process of evaluating alternatives to the Compass program, and that an update will be available to customers in the next several weeks.

When entering college students do not pass a placement test such as Compass or College Board’s Accuplacer, and are placed in remedial courses, their chances of completing a degree plummet. Just 25 percent of students who take remedial courses finish a community college program or transfer to a four-year college. Nearly 70 percent of community college students are assigned remedial coursework, according to the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

A growing body of research called into question the role of placement tests, which are used at all types of colleges, but are most concentrated at community colleges.

In 2012, two studies by the CCRC at Columbia University’s Teachers College showed that a significant number students who took the Compass or Accuplacer were inaccurately placed into remedial classes. The studies suggest value in using multiple measures to place students in college-bearing courses, such as students’ high school grade point average.

CCRC’s Judith Scott-Clayton, who has researched the issue, said in a phone interview that she was surprised by what she calls ACT’s “brave” decision to take the leap while there are still so many students taking these tests.

“There have been conversations for a few years about their use and whether they are being overused and whether there other measures that could be incorporated,” she said. “I thought conversation was more headed towards whether there are other things we can incorporate into this process.”

Scott-Clayton said some community colleges have begun experimenting with using high school GPA as an alternative measure for placement and CCRC is currently in the middle of a study that examines the impact of that approach.

ACT has offered a course-placement-assessment system for college since 1983. It first had a paper-and-pencil version called Asset and then rolled out the computerized Compass program in 1992.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.