Research in Higher Education

, Volume 57, Issue 2, pp 123–151 | Cite as

Using a Regression Discontinuity Design to Estimate the Impact of Placement Decisions in Developmental Math

  • Tatiana Melguizo
  • Johannes M. Bos
  • Federick Ngo
  • Nicholas Mills
  • George Prather


This study evaluates the effectiveness of math placement policies for entering community college students on these students’ academic success in math. We estimate the impact of placement decisions by using a discrete-time survival model within a regression discontinuity framework. The primary conclusion that emerges is that initial placement in a lower-level course increases the time until a student at the margin completes the higher-level course they were not assigned to by about a year on average but in most cases, after this time period, the penalty was small and not statistically significant. We found minor differences in terms of degree applicable and degree transferable credit accumulation between students placed initially in the lowerlevel course.


Developmental math Community colleges Evaluation Discrete time hazard model Regression discontinuity design 



The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A100381 to the University of Southern California. Additional support was received from an internal grant from the Advancing Scholarship in the Humanities and Social Sciences (ASHSS) Initiative of the University of Southern California, Office of the Provost. We would first like to thank Bo Kim for exceptional research assistance. Special thanks to Will Kwon and Kristen Fong for providing support in replicating the results for other colleges, and to Holly Kosiewicz for insightful feedback. The manuscript benefited substantially from the comments of the following members of the advisory committee to this project: Paco Martorell, Sarah Reber, Lucrecia Santibanez, Juan Esteban Saavedra, and Gary Painter. Lastly, we want to thank the Los Angeles Community College District, its research department, its math faculty, and its students, for their active participation in this research project.


The views contained herein are not necessary those of the Institute of Education Sciences.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tatiana Melguizo
    • 1
  • Johannes M. Bos
    • 2
  • Federick Ngo
    • 1
  • Nicholas Mills
    • 2
  • George Prather
    • 3
  1. 1.Rossier School of EducationUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.American Institutes for ResearchSan MateoUSA
  3. 3.Los Angeles Community College DistrictLos AngelesUSA

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