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Student Placement: Ensuring Access

**Finkelstein, N.D., & Fong, A.B. (2008). Course-taking patterns and preparation for postsecondary success in California’s public university among minority youth. Washington, D.C: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory West. Available at


This study documents high-school course-taking patterns associated with preparation and entry into two-year California community colleges and four-year CSU and UC institutions. The authors find that students who complete college-preparatory courses in 9th grade begin a clear trajectory to postsecondary access while students who fall off the college-preparatory track early in high school move further away from the college preparatory program throughout high school.  Additionally, making up missed courses and academic content is likely to be difficult for students who put off college-preparatory work until later in their high school career. These findings suggest that early placement intervention is critical for post-secondary success.


Williams, T., Haertel, E., Kirst, M.W., Rosin, M., Perry, M. (2011, February). Preparation, Placement, Proficiency: Improving Middle Grades Math Performance. Policy and Practice Brief. Mountain View, CA: EdSource. Available at


This brief analyzes district approaches to placing students in 8th grade algebra—seen as a gateway course for college preparation. Examining California Standards Test (CST) math scores, the authors find that students who are placed in 8th grade algebra have widely varying scores in 7th grade math and that students with low 7th grade math scores tend to struggle greatly in 8th grade algebra. The authors also observe that student placement practices are often left to the school site, leading to large variation in who gets placed in algebra. The authors argue that a one-size-fits-all approach to 8th grade math placement is not supported by their analysis and that school districts should take a leadership role on both placement policies and evaluation of the results of the placement policies.


Koelsch, N. (2006). Improving literacy outcomes for English language learners in high school: Considerations for states and districts in developing a coherent policy framework. Washington, D.C: National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research. Available at


This research brief outlines barriers for English learners’ (ELs) educational attainment, such as low student expectations, tracking policies, and errors in special education placement. In order to restructure the opportunities available to ELs and to improve their educational outcomes, the author stresses that a variety of interventions must be implemented, such as instructional literacy supports and professional development for teachers, in order to ensure that ELs have access to college preparatory courses.



**This document is considered a priority reading.