WWC review of this study

Expanding Access to College-Level Courses: Early Findings from an Experimental Study of Multiple Measures Assessment and Placement

Cullinan, Dan; Barnett, Elisabeth; Kopko, Elizabeth; Lopez, Andrea; Morton, Tiffany (2019). MDRC. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED602455

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
    , grade

Reviewed: March 2021

At least one finding shows strong evidence of effectiveness
At least one statistically significant positive finding
Meets WWC standards without reservations
Progressing in College outcomes—Statistically significant positive effect found for the domain
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
Significant? Improvement

Enrolled in any course

Multiple measures and assessment and placement vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

"Bumped up" sample - English;
624 students





Enrolled in any course

Multiple measures and assessment and placement vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

"Bumped up" sample - Math;
703 students




Show Supplemental Findings

Enrolled in any course

Multiple measures and assessment and placement vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

Full sample;
5,282 students





Evidence Tier rating based solely on this study. This intervention may achieve a higher tier when combined with the full body of evidence.

Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.

  • Female: 52%
    Male: 43%
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    Minnesota, Wisconsin
  • Race
    Other or unknown
  • Ethnicity
    Not Hispanic or Latino    


MDRC partnered with the Community College Research Center to evaluate the efficacy of a multiple measures assessment (MMA) system compared to a standard practice of using a single test to identify students who require developmental education. Developmental education in community colleges is meant to help students acquire the literacy and numeracy skills necessary for college-level coursework but this form of support costs time and money. Multiple Measures Assessment (MMA) is an alternative to the practice of administering a single test to assess if colleges should place students in developmental education. MMA systems might help college administrators identify students who need developmental education versus students who can begin with standard coursework. This study began prior to the fall 2018 semester and was conducted in four community colleges: Anoka Ramsey Community College (Coon Rapids, MN), Century College (White Bear Lake, MN), Minneapolis Community and Technical College (Minneapolis, MN), and Normandale Community College (Bloomington, MN). A fifth institution, Madison College, was also initially involved in the study but outcomes from this school are not included because of MMA implementation challenges; findings from this school should however be included in future reports. The multiple measures used in the study included high school grade point averages (GPA), SAT and ACT scores, and assessments of noncognitive skills such as students’ attitudes toward college and motivation. Study outcomes focused on college enrollment and progress. The group of students assigned to be assessed via MMA leads to the main purpose of this study; some of these students had test scores that, if they were in the business-as-usual condition, would have led to their placement in developmental education. However, some of these students had high school GPA or other scores that allowed for them to be placed in college-level courses given they were in the MMA condition. These students were described as being in a “bump up” zone. The students in this zone were subsequently assigned to either standard college courses or developmental education courses. The study therefore evaluated both (1) the impact of MMA use on college enrollment and progress as well as (2) “bumping up” students who normally would be assigned to developmental education in standard courses to see if this had an impact on college enrollment and progress.

Study sample

There were 5,282 students in the study sample. More than half the students (59.6 percent) in the study were 20 years old or under (26.4 percent of the students were between the ages of 21 and 30), and approximately half were females (52.1 percent). Almost half of the sample was white (48.5 percent), 20.2 percent of the sample was black, and 41.6 percent of the sample was eligible to receive a Pell grant. The follow-up study examined outcomes for 624 bump up students, taken from the MMA group, who were randomly assigned to either take college courses or developmental education courses in English. There were 703 students assigned to take college courses or developmental education courses in Mathematics. Bump up students were described by the authors as representing the main analytic sample for the study.

Intervention Group

Colleges participating in this project used their respective MMA system to determine if students in the intervention should be placed in college-level or developmental education courses. Each college had a different variant of MMA, but all systems included two or more of the following measures: placement test scores, high school GPA, the results of noncognitive assessments, or scores from the ACT and SAT. In some colleges, a system of “decision bands,” applicable to students within a particular score range, was used. In these colleges, students who earned test scores within a specific range would be evaluated using other measures. Students received only information on the course or courses in which they were placed; students did not receive their placement scores.

Comparison Group

Students in the business-as-usual condition were assessed for the need to participate in developmental education using a single placement test, which was typically the ACCUPLACER. The ACCUPLACER was developed by the College Board to assess skills in reading, math, and writing.

Support for implementation

Participating colleges established their own MMA system and when doing so received technical assistance from MDRC and the Community College Research Center (CCRC). College staff reported that they faithfully followed placement rules and adhered to placement procedures for both groups of students, although there were a few notable exceptions. Colleges included post-placement advising and registration session for students who were bumped up as a result of the MMA system.


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