January 8, 2018 at 11:41 am

Klein Helps Pilot Program Improve Accurate Math Placement

Dr. Robert Klein, portrait

Dr. Robert Klein

From the Office of Instructional Technology

Ohio University has long used a two-tiered system to place students in their first college-level math course. Students are initially assigned to a level based on their ACT/SAT scores or courses transferred from another institution; they can attempt to change their initial designation by taking an optional in-house math placement test through Blackboard. From this test, students are sorted into four placement levels:

  • Developmental placement (DV) — Math D003, D004, or D005
    Placement level 1 (PL 1) — Tier 1 quantitative classes
    Placement level 2 (PL 2) — Pre-calculus, mathematical statistics, etc.
    Placement level 3 (PL 3) — Calculus I

While the levels continue to be important, the means of determining the levels at which students are most likely to be successful is being investigated. “Our existing system is good, but we think we could do better. And we’re not alone in taking a look at the validity and reliability of placement assessment,” said Dr. Robert Klein, associate professor and interim associate dean of Ohio University Lancaster. He said institutions across the country have been investigating the optimal way to place students in college-level math.

Klein started engaging colleagues from across different disciplines in conversation and participating in national meetings about placement options and consequences. This led him to pilot a system being used by many other institutions nationally: ALEKS.

Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces (ALEKS) is a web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system that uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn’t know. At Ohio University, it is a “Quantitative Preparation for an Academically Strong Start (QPASS),” since it offers more than just an assessment of placement — it offers students a chance to spend time learning concepts before being reassessed. Advisors and students can then review progress and performance to help students succeed in their first quantitative course.

Students sign into the ALEKS/QPASS system and take a first assessment. The system uses adaptive reasoning to determine the questions it presents to each student. After the student’s first assessment, ALEKS/QPASS gives them an initial placement — for example, Placement Level 1 (PL 1). With this placement, ALEKS/QPASS breaks down the student’s strengths and weak areas so they can see what exactly that placement means.

After the first assessment, the student must spend at least three hours in a learning module that targets concepts the student needs to learn better to help them improve their next placement assessment. The student has the option to take the assessment a total of three times.. A 48-hour “cool-off” period between each assessment ensures that the assessment reflects knowledge mastery rather than more short-term “cram session” study techniques, enhancing the validity of the placement result. Throughout the student’s learning modules and placement assessments, ALEKS/QPASS tracks where the student struggles and adapts accordingly, giving detailed feedback to the student about where their knowledge is strong and where it needs to improve.

Klein admitted to being a suspicious person by nature, but what won him over to ALEKS/QPASS is the idea that students should be in charge of their own learning, and this program lets them do just that. “Students have agency, and students should be able to exercise that agency when it comes to their education,” said Klein. “Placement is often something that’s done to you; it’s a label that’s slapped on you and has little meaning. ALEKS/QPASS is a complete system that includes placement, but it also includes explanations and in-depth learning modules. This puts students in the driver seat while giving them a much better sense of what their placement means in terms of what they do and don’t know.”

Read the rest of the story by the Office of Instructional Technology.

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