Lessons from the ACCUPLACER & CLEP Conference
Lessons from the ACCUPLACER & CLEP ConferenceAbby Hexter, Director, Communications
One of my goals for attending the recent ACCUPLACER & CLEP National Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, was to get an answer to this question: what’s a typical day in the life of an ACCUPLACER user?
ACCUPLACER is an integrated system of computer-adaptive assessments that includes tests in reading, writing, and English-as-a-Second Language reading and writing, and various math subjects. It is designed to help educators understand a students’ skill level in a particular subject area, to ensure they are placed in the appropriate college course that fits their needs. ACCUPLACER can also provide a detailed analysis of a student’s strengths and weaknesses and be used as a diagnostic tool to determine college readiness and academic preparedness. More than 7.5 million ACCUPLACER tests are administered each year in more than 1,500 high schools and colleges, and it’s safe to say that every one of those institutions uses this integrated system of assessments a little differently. It did not take long to realize that the answer to this question is that a typical day in the life of an ACCUPLCAER user does not exist.
Buzz about next-generation ACCUPLACER enhancements was palpable throughout the conference—in spite of (or perhaps because of) the 115 degree desert heat. During a session led by Antoinette Crockrell, Executive Director of the ACCUPLACER program, members of College Board’s Assessment Design and Development team focused closely on the technical aspects of the changes. Presenters spoke about concepts like Item Response Theory and Differential Item Functioning, and as those in the room who were not statisticians (like me) were diligently taking notes, participants posed questions that clearly indicated their desire to understand how these changes would impact their students. In aligning ACCUPLACER to the same content domain continuum as the SAT Suite of Assessments—the content and skills that research shows matter most for college success—what does this mean for practice opportunities? How can educators help students understand which assessment they should take, and when? What specific knowledge and skills will the new tests measure?
This became a common theme of conference attendees—understanding how policy and product enhancements will impact their students. Those that rely on the simplicity and usefulness of ACCUPLACER as a tool for placement and diagnostics are first and foremost concerned with how they can leverage the enhancements the College Board is making, to make the system work better for their students.
This focus persisted as conversations shifted to and from technical specifications of the tests to the changing educational and political climate for community college and non-traditional students. During the keynote panel discussion aptly named “Challenge, Change, and Opportunity”, panelists discussed the changing identity of today’s college student, federal support for financial aid, and a shift to talking about college completion rather than admission as the ultimate goal for today’s student. Panelists discussed the idea of changing Pell Grants to include not only tuition for low-income students, but also room and board—significant costs that can be prohibitive of attending and completing college in and of themselves. The value of ACCUPLACER and CLEP for students who don’t follow the “traditional” path of a college student was reiterated during this session and breakouts to follow; specifically the flexibility, accuracy, relative cost, and potential savings that these products bring to the table (stay tuned for more All Access coverage on CLEP—you can read more about it here).
I walked away from Las Vegas with a certainty that the way we think about a college student in this country is fundamentally different than it was even a decade ago—and will continue to evolve. I may not have been able to adequately capture a normal day in the life of an ACCUPLACER user, but I can say educators are eager for ACCUPLACER to evolve as well—and continue to be a tool used by colleges, high schools, and community organizations as they work to adapt their policies and practices to support these students.