Reports of the redesign of the SAT resonate with many parents and their school-age children who have had personal experience with the controversial college gatekeeper. But another test in the College Board portfolio, though not in the news, is arguably even more important to the future—or lack of a future—of high-school age students. It’s the Accuplacer. Accuplacer is, like the SAT, a suite of tests. It assesses concrete English and math skills—things like decimals, percents, equations, reading comprehension and basic writing skills.
Accuplacer tests are used by community colleges, state colleges and public universities in all New England states to place incoming students in the right courses. “Right courses” doesn’t refer to the choice of academic subjects they will be studying. Crucially, Accuplacer tests determine whether they will take regular, for-credit courses—or instead take non-credit “developmental” courses. That is, remedial courses. Astonishingly, and sadly, in Massachusetts, 65% of incoming community college students score too low on the Accuplacer tests, and as a result they find themselves assigned to as many as three or four remedial courses. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in Boston recently, called our remediation rate “a staggering number.” That is a scandal that you should be reading about on the front pages. And it gets worse. Students pay the same tuition and fees for these courses as for regular, for-credit courses, and the courses take up the same 16 weeks of study—but the developmental courses don’t count toward a degree.