We administer the Nelson Denny Form E to all entering students, including
transfer students. Based on a review of our stats over the years, the
Registrar and I have tweaked our cut-offs so that we are quite confident
about the placement.  We developed a formula that takes SAT verbal scores
into account and gives transfer students a bit of a break.
For students who place into the College Reading & Study Skills course, we
also administer a very different type of test the first day of class - i.e.
summarize a selection and write the topic and main idea for five paragraphs.

We have found the combination of these two tests to be an excellent
predictor, and having the second test makes the placement more palatable to
admissions counselors, parents, and students. [Helps deal with the arguments
that "I just had a bad day" and "I never do well on objective tests."]  In
fact, very few students test out of the course.

When you do investigate reading tests, make sure that the one you select is
normed against four-year institutions as well as 2-year colleges.  That's
one of the reasons I selected the Nelson Denny, but there are a few others
which also have four-year norms.  Since placement can often become a
political hot potato, it's important to have a test that people can trust
over time.    The Registrar and I have done a fair amount of review on the
placement scores, so I have solid data to go on when people question the
reliability, validity, etc.  The Nelson Denny comes with a brochure which
makes discussion of the results meaningful to students.  We use it routinely
at the beginning of the semester with students who place into the reading
course. There's something "official" sounding about discussion of percentile
ranking and the meaning of a high vocabulary with low comprehension and rate
[for example] that makes placement much more credible to students and
parents.  The conversation becomes far more objective rather than the
subjective opinion of a professor.

Also, I needed a test that would not take too much time.  Students take
writing and math tests also, so we decided three hours was all students
could reasonable handle.  They take writing and reading, then a 15 minute
break, then the math.

A caveat - the Nelson Denny includes a timed section.  While I have found
that score reliable in small group situations, we quickly found it
unreliable when the test was adminitsered to large groups.  Therefore, we do
not use the score for reading rate in determining placement.  We do,
however, use it in discussing the results with individual students.

A final note -- before we instituted the current placement tests, I asked
admissions to give me a list of colleges which are our direct "competitors."
They gave me about a dozen names.   Then I called each and spoke with
placement and reading people at each institution about their reading
placement policies.  Based on my findings, I developed a proposal for the
test and the cut-offs.  Having that data carried a great deal of weight --
probably more than knowing what colleges around the country are up to.

Good luck!

Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions.

Faye Ross
Philadelphia University
[log in to unmask]

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Maria McKinney [SMTP:[log in to unmask]]
> Sent: Tuesday, March 14, 2000 7:56 PM
> To:   [log in to unmask]
> Subject:      Placement Tests
> I have been asked by our VPAA to find out which placement tests are
> administered by 4-year colleges.  I am urging our administration to
> administer a reading placement test as well as the usual writing and math
> placement tests, but the belief here is that only community colleges test
> for reading.  I'm sure it is more common in community colleges, but how
> many
> of you four-year colleges administer a reading test?  I deal with at-risk
> students, and I see how many of their problems stem from an inability to
> read well.
> Can you provide me with any information?
> Maria McKinney
> Director of Academic Support Services
> Dominican College of San Rafael
> 50 Acacia Avenue
> San Rafael, CA 94901
> 415.458.3781