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IES Grant

Title: Evaluating the Effects of Basic Skills Mathematics Placement on Academic Outcomes of Community College Students
Center: NCER Year: 2010
Principal Investigator: Melguizo, Tatiana Awardee: University of Southern California
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years Award Amount: $546,452
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A100381

Co-Principal Investigator: Johannes Bos

Purpose: Many community college students have basic skills needs substantially below the traditional college level. Every year, more than 50 percent of the students in the Los Angeles Community College District are placed into basic skills mathematics courses. These students must extend their community college careers by a considerable time and their institutions devote significant resources to basic skills rather than college-level instruction. This study will evaluate the effectiveness of basic math skills education on the course-taking patterns of community college transfer students. This study will contribute to the literature by rigorously evaluating the effect of assignment into different levels of math courses. Results will provide insights for district and state decision makers that could result in significant cost savings based on the effect of remedial placement on successful course sequences.

Project Activities: This study will use secondary analysis of student transcript data to evaluate the effects of assignment to a higher or lower level of basic skills math courses on college progress and success. It focuses on the impact of math remediation across semesters and successfully passing the course. Researchers will evaluate the indirect impact of basic skills math courses on degree attainment and transfer to four-year colleges.

Products: The products of this project will include published reports with evidence of the effect of basic skills math courses for community college students on their subsequent progress in traditional college courses.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study is conducted in the nine community colleges that comprise the Los Angeles Community College District.

Population: The study participants will be 158,000 students who were placed in basic-skills mathematics courses at these nine community colleges between 2001 and 2006.

Intervention: Students with scores near the cut-point (both above and below) for placement into basic skills math courses will comprise the treatment and comparison groups. The course-taking patterns, grade point average, transfer and graduation outcomes will be compared to estimate the efficacy of basic skills mathematics courses in improving student outcomes.

Research Design and Methods: A regression discontinuity design will be used to estimate the effect of taking basic skills math courses on key outcomes. Analyses examine this effect for students assigned to different levels of remediation. In addition, survey data are available for 15 percent of the students (who are randomly selected) to provide additional academic and background information for the subgroup analyses.

Control Condition: The comparison groups will be students who were just above the cut-points for remediation decisions.

Key Measures: The efficacy of remedial math programs will be assessed in regard to success in the following math course (either next basic skills or college-level math), enrollment and passage of a college level course, community college grade point average, total college credits earned (including those earned at transfer institutions), degree attainment, and transfer to a four-year college.

Data Analytic Strategy: This study will combine descriptive analyses with a regression discontinuity design to estimate the effect of developmental education. In the regression discontinuity design, students near the cut-point (on either side) will comprise the treatment and comparison groups. Regression lines will be produced for each group, and compared to determine whether placement into basic skills math courses results in a shift in expected performance. In addition, demographic and background variables will be used to estimate impact for subgroups of interest. An instrumental variable will be used to adjust for actual participation in the basic math courses. Analyses comparing colleges may identify campuses at which participation in basic skills math courses are particularly effective in improving student outcomes.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Fong, K. E., and Melguizo, T. (2017). Utilizing Additional Measures of High School Academic Preparation to Support Students in their Math Self-Assessment. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 41(9), 566–592.

Fong, K. E., Melguizo, T., and Prather, G. (2015). Increasing Success Rates in Developmental Math: The Complementary Role of Individual and Institutional Characteristics. Research in Higher Education, 56(7), 719–749.

Melguizo, T., Bos, J., and Prather, G. (2011). Is Developmental Education Helping Community College Students Persist? A Critical Review of the Literature. American Behavioral Scientist, 55(2), 173–184.

Melguizo, T., Bos, J. M., Ngo, F., Mills, N., and Prather, G. (2016). Using a Regression Discontinuity Design to Estimate the Impact of Placement Decisions in Developmental Math. Research in Higher Education, 57(2), 123–151.

Melguizo, T., Kosiewicz, H., Prather, G., and Bos, J. (2014). How are Community College Students Assessed and Placed in Developmental Math? Grounding our Understanding in Reality. The Journal of Higher Education, 85(5), 691–722.

Ngo, F., and Melguizo, T. (2016). How can Placement Policy Improve Math Remediation Outcomes? Evidence From Experimentation In Community Colleges. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 38(1), 171–196.