Date of Award

Summer 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Christine DiStefano

Second Advisor

Tammiee Dickenson


Community colleges are under ongoing pressure to increase the success of students placed into developmental courses; while many reforms focus on the length of course sequences, there is also attention on how students are assessed and placed. Studies of these assessment and placement (A&P) methods focus primarily on predictive validity; one aspect of validity that is neglected is social validity, which assesses the extent to which the goals, procedures, and effects of an intervention are socially desirable.

The purpose of this study was to use a social validity framework to explore the perspectives of community college math and English faculty on three A&P methods: standardized test scores, multiple measures placement (MMP), and guided self-placement (GSP). This sequential mixed methods study consisted of in-depth interviews (n=10) followed by a survey designed to evaluate the social validity of the three methods and explore the relationship with adult education philosophies (n=107).

Based on the integration of qualitative and quantitative findings, faculty feel the goals of A&P are to assess knowledge and skills, place students into a course that is not too hard or too easy, and to maximize students’ chances for success. They largely agree that MMP is designed to achieve these goals but are less positive regarding GSP and tests. They are concerned about the procedures of all three methods, including their design, implementation challenges, and how students experience placement. Faculty were most positive about the effects of MMP, but only half agreed that tests and GSP correctly placed students. The social validity of tests was more positively associated with more teacher-centered educational philosophies; the social validity of GSP was more positively associated with more student-centered philosophies. However, all of the correlations were small or negligible.

Exploring social validity can provide valuable information about levels of support, whether there is a shared vision and goals, potential implementation challenges, and whether outcomes are identified and understood. A greater understanding of the perspectives of not only faculty but also administrators, advisors, and especially students, could help community colleges build support for reform, proactively identify challenges, and implement stronger programs, policies, and practices.


© 2022, Dawn R. Coleman