So far in my series of columns on community colleges, I have been describing flaws in admissions systems, including too much reliance on placement tests that waste time and money by keeping students out of for-credit courses. It is one of many reasons why more than 80 percent of new community college students say they want a four-year degree, but after six years just 15 percent have gotten one.

Washington area community colleges are aware of the problem. Their attempts at solutions are interesting. But keep in mind that two-year colleges nationally have been promising for years to address the issue, with not much to show for their efforts. If you have first-hand experience with community college entrance systems, good or bad, e-mail me at

I asked Washington area two-year colleges two questions: What are you doing to help enrolling students better prepare for placement tests like the College Board’s ACCUPLACER, and what are you doing to replace the remedial courses that those tests often put students in with something that will get them into for-credit courses right away? Here are their answers to the first question. Their responses to the second will be in a following column.

The University of the District of Columbia Community College participated two years ago in a program that sent college staff into D.C. high schools to proctor ACCUPLACER exams. Students got a taste of the exam before they graduated so that they would have a better chance to prepare when they took it again before entering UDC. Dianna G. Phillips, chief executive officer of UDCCC, said “currently there are 15 high schools that proctor the ACCUPLACER for all or part of the student body. We are also proctoring ACCUPLACER for all students in our dual enrollment programs,” which provide UDCCC courses for students still in high school.

Montgomery College “provides high school students and their families with test orientation, information, and study materials” before taking ACCUPLACER, said the college’s spokesman, Marcus Rosano. Students who do not score high enough on those first exams to be enrolled in for-credit courses “receive targeted interventions to strengthen any academic weaknesses,” Rosano said, and can take the placement tests again.

At Frederick Community College, school district administrators, counselors and some teachers “are invited to participate in annual professional development about college readiness assessment, which includes discussion about the ACCUPLACER exam,” said college spokeswoman Caroline Cole. The college also gives high schools “study materials, exam preparation strategies, and learning technologies” to help them prepare for the ACCUPLACER, she said. There are also online ACCUPLACER practice guides.

Howard Community College offers the ACCUPLACER to many 11th graders so they can learn the importance of the test and see where they need to improve their skills before college, said the college’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth S. Homan. The college has a free ACCUPLACER study app for students with cell phones or computers. “We also include sample questions and tests on our Web site as a free resource,” Homan said. The college’s Freshman Focus program provides a review for students before they take the math placement test.

The College of Southern Maryland, the community college for Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties, sends staff to high schools to brief students on the ACCUPLACER before they take it. “We try to impress on students that they will not do their best if they come into the test ‘cold,’” said Bill Comey, vice president for student and instructional support. “Students, and their parents, are urged to work on practice questions and review material prior to taking the test.”

If they do poorly the first time, they can take ACCUPLACER again. CSM adds an interesting and unusual requirement for that second try. Students must prove they have prepared for the retest. “They can either enroll in a low-cost college-prep course that focuses on specific subject areas or they can use free software to identify specific skills they need to enhance,” Comey said.

Local colleges’ efforts to help students prepare for ACCUPLACER are commendable, but their spokespersons did not tell me how many students each year attend the meetings or read the materials designed to get them ready, and how that compares to the number of students who enroll each year. I will try to get that information. Some local community colleges have not yet responded to my request for their ACCUPLACER policies, but they will have a chance to do so as I go deeper into the issue of entrance exams that don’t work.