December Advising Corner

Posted: December 10, 2013

Undergraduate Education Advising Updates - Changes to Math Placement Testing - Recommended Academic Plans Will Be Changing

Changes to Math Placement Testing

After many years of mathematics placement derived from an internally developed and housed system, the University has contracted with McGraw Hill/ALEKS, an online adaptive program that provides both placement testing and remediation. The decision to pursue a vended placement and remediation solution was made at the urging of the Mathematics Department in consultation with Undergraduate Education (including DUS, SOTP, and SITE), the University Academic Measurement Committee (UAMC), the University Advising Council (UAC), and Information Technology Services (ITS).

You can investigate ALEKS at their web site.  This ALEKS placement testing product is different from ALEKS courseware, and there are no incentives or expectations that the University will change its use of ALEKS courseware because of this change in mathematics placement testing.

Some key facts about ALEKS

Adaptive test: ALEKS is an adaptive test, which means that no two students will take identical tests. The test is designed to probe for students’ areas of strength and weakness.
Remediation capability: Areas needing strengthening will be immediately revealed to students. Students will be immediately provided the opportunity to use ALEKS online learning modules to learn the needed content and to re-test after completing an amount of review that will be determined by the Mathematics Department. For example, students who place into MATH 022, but need MATH 110 will have the ability to learn MATH 022 content, re-test, and place directly into MATH 110 prior to their first semester.
Increased accuracy: Since the placement tests are individualized for each student, the placement results are much finer grained and more accurately point students to courses where they are likely to be successful.

Some information about how ALEKS will work at Penn State

  • Students will take the test on the same timeline they currently test, but they will receive their placement results immediately.
  • Advising web resources will be developed to help students understand their placement results.
  • The University Advising Council is considering how this change may impact academic advising across the University and is making recommendations to UE for how to handle these anticipated changes.
  • Students will not be charged a separate fee for the placement test(s) and remediation—it is included in their tuition and fees.
  • The Mathematics department has a vested interest in facilitating students who have no need for calculus to take alternate math courses (e.g. courses not in the MATH 021 sequence) and in reducing or eliminating the need for remedial math. The advising materials generated (see information below) will be created with awareness of this context.

Information on ALEKS Implementation

Students admitted for SP14 are already using the system.

Academic Advising and ALEKS

Janet Schulenberg will chair a small group of front-line advisers who will develop materials to support both students and advisers. This group will consult widely in the development of those materials. Materials will also be vetted through UAC before implementation. The goal is to develop support materials quickly, but inclusively.  The team will work to implement changes in the first two of the three areas below:

Support materials for Academic Advisers

Academic advisers need materials that help them understand and interpret placements. Many of these materials are available through ALEKS, but there is a need for Penn State specific support in how placements are derived and enforced.

Prior to New Student Orientation: At the time of testing, students will need access to robust web materials that will help them easily identify which mathematics courses are relevant to their intended degree, interpret their ALEKS placement score, and decide if remediation is needed. UAC is also considering the needs for students and parents to consult with academic advisers during this timeframe and will be making recommendations for how to handle this potential change in demand for pre-enrollment academic advising.

At New Student Orientation

When students attend NSO, and prior to scheduling courses, students will need to be reminded of their placements and the relevance of those placements for their intended academic plan. This presents the opportunity to revise the current “Academic Background and Placements” document to better meet student needs. This revision will occur with consultation from advisers who work with students at NSO at a number of campuses and colleges, likely by a different working group than for the first two items listed above.

This change holds a great deal of potential benefit to our students and the University. At the same time, it will require a great deal of effort as we implement and adapt to new systems.

If you have questions, concerns, and ideas, please contact Janet Schulenberg.

Recommended Academic Plans Will Be Changing

In order to address issues with online materials for persons with sight impairment, the University is preparing to restructure the Recommended Academic Plans (RAPs) so they are appropriate for readers. Because the College of Agricultural Sciences has undergone so many curricular updates in recent months, it is crucial that the RAPs are as accurate as possible before the work begins to get them into a readable format. Please review the RAPs for your programs and send any corrections or updates to Terry Musser by December 15.