Long: Placement testing would benefit everyone

Craig Long

Every single student who started at Iowa State as a freshman has experienced horrifying lectures that review every single thing you’ve been taught in high school. Though I don’t have firsthand knowledge in every major, I’m sure most majors have courses of the like.

What’s the point? Why review what should be basic knowledge? I understand that not everyone’s education is the same, and sometimes portions of what are taught in 100-level classes here at Iowa State aren’t covered in some high schools. But I just have to wonder if there isn’t a better way.

Instead of operating off the assumption that incoming students haven’t learned basic material that they should have, wouldn’t it be beneficial to all of us if we could pick up from an accepted point and accelerate our studies from there? Even if review of high school curricula is normally covered in two weeks, that’s still six valuable hours in class that could be spent on more difficult concepts or extending the reach of a course further.

So why doesn’t the university require placement exams? It would easily separate students into courses that are matched with their skill level. Instead of trusting the student to accurately ascertain their level or take the initiative to test out of a class, the university could simply give placement exams to all incoming freshmen.

When a student declares a major, they would have to take placement exams to get into the first classes required for the major, as well as some basic placement tests for gen eds. This would ensure that professors knew exactly what level the students were at, cutting the need for general reviews and ensuring that all students were up to speed.

We all pay for these classes; shouldn’t the university be doing all it can to maximize our learning potential in them? By separating those with adequate background knowledge from those without it, the quality of education experienced by everyone increases.

Those who did not possess that knowledge could be placed in a class to build the knowledge base required for the first courses in the major. Those who already possessed that base would not lose valuable hours of class time to review concepts they learned in high school, enhancing how much they could cover in a semester.

I certainly wish this was how it was done when I was a freshman. I started in engineering, and my small-town education didn’t come close to touching some of the topics covered in my courses. My ACT scores placed me in the Honors section, when I should have really been in very basic courses to expose me to basic concepts I needed to learn. It didn’t help that I didn’t put forth enough effort, but I would have been slotted in classes closer to my knowledge level. At the very least, I could have changed majors to something I was more knowledgeable in instead of stumbling through classes in which I had virtually no hope.

I know that everyone has to submit an ACT or SAT score, but it’s not the same. Those tests cover only four general knowledge areas. They are generalized exams and don’t nearly get into the level of detail that would be required to properly place a student. For example, one of the knowledge areas tests for reading comprehension, a vital skill to possess in college. But that doesn’t test what students know, it tests their ability to read. Even those who are able to read well may struggle when hurried through materials foreign to them.

All in all, it would benefit everyone. The students would receive a more proper, advanced, tailored education and professors wouldn’t have to waste time teaching basic principles that should be known to all college students. It could lead to smaller class sizes as well, as large lectures are split into two different courses. The university would proceed to turn out even more exemplary graduates, enhancing our academic reputation.

University-given testing is required. The university knows exactly what benchmarks are to be attained in each course (English 150 or 250, for instance); they can then determine what a student should know going into those first classes. Sure, it is an additional expense when budgets have been shrinking over the years. Getting thousands of incoming freshmen to take a standardized exam would be a nightmare to arrange, but as this university strives to continually improve the education of its students, reforms are necessary.