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Global Issues Report:

Placement Testing and UTEP

Ceciliah Martinez

The University of Texas at El Paso

RWS 1301

Dr. Vierra

April 24, 2019



This report examines the issues and effects on persistence pertaining to one of the known

global issues: placement testing in connection to poor air quality as a main cause and effect. A

study between air quality and student persistence by UTEP researches provide statistics and their

findings on how poor air quality and air pollution can affect students causing a rise in retention

rates. Placement testing has been considered one of the reasons as to why retention rates are

rising in the U.S. Marshall goes into depth of exactly what a placement test is and what it

consists of. The outcomes of a student being inaccurately scored and placed into specific courses

is explained. Hoyt and Sorensen share the actions in which many schools and districts are taking

to assert the issues within placement testing. Clery and Frye also discuss the alternative methods

that colleges and states are developing in order to better placement testing. Kaufman goes on to

discuss how fairness must be implemented in all tests due to the diversity and the different

learning styles of students. Lastly, Headden briefly suggests some solutions to resolve the issue.

The findings from each source has allowed for a conclusion to be drawn, determining placement

testing as influencing the persistence of students.


Global Issues Report:

Placement Testing and UTEP

“The U.S. has the highest college dropout rate.” So said Bill Gates, principal founder of

Microsoft Corporation, speaking to reporter Abigail Hess (2017). Many of those students who

dropout is left with high amounts of student loan debt. The retention rate for The University of

Texas at El Paso itself is more than 70% which is more than the average retention rate of the

state of Texas. Much of this has to do with placement tests colleges administer to students before

entering college. The placement tests are used to determine which courses students can take

based on their scores. If students are not accurately placed, it could lead to them failing their

courses and potentially dropping out from college because of difficulty. There is a deep

connection between placement and retention rates as a result from air pollution taking part in

increasing these retention rates.


Those who are exposed to toxic air pollutants are found to most likely obtain lower

GPA’s. According to a study on children’s health by UTEP researchers Sara E. Grineski, and

Timothy W. Collins, in the article of Acosta (2015), has found that fourth and fifth graders who

are exposed to toxic air pollutants at home are more likely to have lower GPAs (p. 2). In the

study, the researchers found that the higher-level grades of elementary students were more

exposed to vehicle emissions including cars, trucks and buses. These students had obtained the

lowest GPA’s. “Air pollution makes children sick, which leads to absenteeism and poor

performance in school. The other hypothesis is that chronic exposure to air toxics can negatively

affect children’s neurological and brain development,” stated by Grineski when speaking to

Acosta (2015). The materials used for the study was an assessment from the Environmental

Protection Agency, known as the National Air Toxics Assessment. This assessment was used to

estimate the children’s exposure to toxic air pollutants surround their environment. According to

Burns (2016), many studies are focused on exceedances and variation of the short- and long-term

objectives PM10 and exceedance of the long-term objectives for NO2 (p. 18). These studies

focus on the exact causes of air pollutants in relation to the studies dealing with tools that map

urban traffic emissions as well as air quality. (see figure 1). These studies gather information on

emissions, atmospheric transport and emission control measures.

The purpose of placement testing is for an individual to be measured on his or her own

knowledge and learning capabilities. If a student isn’t properly reviewed and admitted into the

next level studies, their future can lead to difficulties. According to Kowski (2014), many of

today’s college students are not academically strong enough to manage college-level work, and

some would argue, should not have been admitted into college in the first place (p.1). According

to Marshall (1944), tests are designed to measure either a person’s knowledge or his ability to

use his knowledge (p. 2). Testing or examining has been used for many other purposes than as a

concomitant to teaching (p. 2). This implies that the history of tests and test taking has evolved to

hold many different purposes which would include placement testing for individuals to be

qualified for the “next step”. This suggests the basis to the whole idea of having individuals be

examined is to test what they’ve been taught. With air pollution as the leading affect towards a

student’s academic performance, retention rates are much increased. Especially in young

students are the affects much greater as their respiration rates are much higher, and their bodies

are still developing. According to Mohai (2011), children with high levels of exposure to

nitrogen dioxide and particles 10 micrometers or less in the air—a standard used by the

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to measure air quality—perform significantly worse on


neurobehavioral tests, even after confounding variables are controlled for (p.852). Many

students are expected to perform at a certain standard, but the outside factors are not considered

as they should be.

Many students entering into a community college or university are not prepared for the

college level coursework. According to Hoyt & Sorensen (2001), these factors have led to

imminent federal legislation requiring greater accountability and increased testing in public

schools (p. 1). Educators express concerns that student failure to take college preparatory

courses, grade inflation, and a lack of academic rigor in high school courses all contribute to the

need for remediation in college (p. 1). This implies that’s students aren’t gaining a true

understanding of the material they are being taught. According to Hoyt & Sorensen (2001), states

are establishing higher standards for high school graduation, increasing admission requirements

at senior colleges and universities, structuring open admissions programs, and using testing and

evaluation to assess educational outcomes (p. 2). This is resulting from the concerns pertaining to

high schools potentially not preparing students for college.

The validity of a single test is determined by the selection of questions and data obtained.

According to Marshall (1944), a test has high content validity when a careful scrutiny of each item

item in it shows that the content of the test is undeniably important material from the subject field.

A test has a high statistical validity when the results from it, when correlated by statistical

techniques with a reliable criterion, show that the test differentiates to a high degree between those

who know more and those who know less; or, better, it arranges the students in order of their

knowledge of the subject (p.36-37). This implies that way to accurately determine and measure

how valid a test is by comparing it with a criterion. It can be determined mainly in comparison of

the results from a student who knows the subject well as opposed to a student who knows less. In

relation to reliability of a test, there are numerous factors in which can affect the test. These factors

include the length of the test as well as the arrangement of the questions on a test. According to

Marshall (1944), they must be arranged in order of difficulty for if difficult questions precede easy

ones the student might be prevented from showing his command of the subject by wasting time on

the difficult problems and hence missing out on many of the easier ones which he could answer

(p.38). This suggests that a student’s performance on a test will not be accurate as the student could

have skipped the difficult questions, preceding to the much easier ones, receiving a better mark.

All factors must be taken into consideration to determine validity and reliability. Common

placement tests and exams do not highly predict validity and in many cases result in misplacement.

According to Clery & Frye (2018), colleges and states are developing alternative methods to place

students. For example, some are striving to identify methods to better identify the academic needs

of students, while others are doing away with developmental requirements altogether (p. 3). This

implies the efforts from colleges and states to develop alternative pathways for students to be able

to move up to a higher level of developmental education. With a possibility as such students can

take or enroll in a higher or college level course. According to Clery & Frye (2018), community

colleges have engaged in new approaches in developmental education designed to improve student

progress and completion of developmental coursework, leading to enrollment and success in

college coursework and to increases in student success and completion outcomes (p. 6). This will

accurately allow students who are eligible to enroll in a higher or college level coursework more

efficiently while those who are not to be held from moving up and potentially becoming stressed

over difficulty courses they are not prepared for.

It is very important for tests to be fair for all students. According to Kaufman (2009), the

U.S population continues to change, the need for fair assessment of diverse populations of

children has become progressively more important (p. 87). This implies that assessments

administered to students of all kinds including those of a minority must be nondiscriminatory on

both a racial and cultural basis as it is already considered under the federal law. It is of demand

for tests to provide a fair way to assess diverse populations of children. Students including those

coming from across borders daily to attend school and enter into the course they have been

placed in that they may not be prepared enough for. (see figure 2-3). In this case its important

that all assessments are reviewed for bias. Placement tests often mark off students who can do

higher or college level work. According Headden (2011), In part that's because community

colleges tend to use these tests as the main or only determinant of who gets to take credit-bearing

courses. They could avoid that by, at the very least, doing what most four-year colleges do, and

what the test companies recommend they do: looking at multiple measures of a student's

potential—placement scores, high school grades, recommendations, the fact that a student has

already passed college courses (p. 4). This suggests that placement testing scores should not be

the main measurement tool that is relied on to justify and determine the placement of a student.

The assessments could potentially be more helpful if the tests gave specific information, as it is

incapable of being aware of whether the students forgot the material or never was taught it.


In conclusion, poor placement testing has been linked to the result of retention across the

U.S. and other countries. It has proven that poor air quality has resulted in poor academic

performance by students. It has also been proven to affect the persistence of students as they are

unfairly and inaccurately being tested and placed into courses. Until colleges and the states

within the U.S. discover a more effective method of placing students correctly into schools and

courses, persistence of these students will be in effect and retention rates will continue to rise.


Acosta L. L, (2015). UTEP Study Links Air Pollution to Children’s Low GPAs. UTEP News

Service. Retrieved from


Clery, S. Frye, B. E. (2018). Lessons learned from developmental education data. New

Directions for Community Colleges. Retrieved from

Headden, S. (2011). How the other half tests. Washington Monthly, 43(9), 32. Retrieved from



Hess, A. (2017). Bill Gates: US college dropout rates are ‘tragic’. CNBC Make It. Retrieved


Hoyt, J. E., & Sorensen, C. T. (2001). High school preparation, placement testing, and college

remediation. Journal of Developmental Education, 25(2) Retrieved from http://0-


Kaufman, J. C. (2009). Intelligent testing : Integrating psychological theory and clinical practice

Cambridge England; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2009. Retrieved from



Marshall, M. V. (1944). An introduction to tests and testing Toronto, Halifax, The Ryerson press

Retrieved from http://0-


Mohai, P. (2011). Air Pollution Around Schools Is Linked To Poorer Student Health And

Academic Performance. Health Affairs. 30:5, 852-862 Retrieved from


Figure 1. A study on children’s health by UTEP researchers Sara E. Grineski, Ph.D., (left) and
Timothy W. Collins, Ph.D., (right) associate professors of sociology and anthropology.
Copyright J.R. Hernandez (2015).

Figure 2. A crowd forms in the early morning at the Puente Internacional Paso del Norte in
Ciudad Juárez. Copyright Miguel Gutierrez (2015).

Figure 3. Cars queue up in multiple lines as they wait to be inspected by U.S. border patrol
officers to enter from Mexico into the U.S. Copyright Jorge Duenes (2019).