SAT Placement Validity Study

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This customized study will help you evaluate your use of SAT score(s) and other measures in your course placement decisions. It will show you how well these criteria work alone and in combination to predict whether a student is likely to be successful in a specific course at your school.

An ACES placement study helps you optimize your placement policies, which benefits both your institution and your students: Appropriate placement cuts down on time wasted when students take classes they’re not prepared for or classes they could skip.

Designing Your Study

In this section, get an overview of how to design your study. For detailed step-by-step instructions, download the ACES SAT Placement Validity Study Guide in the Resources section of this page.

Choosing a Criterion and Predictors

In an ACES study, a criterion means a measure of student success that can be used to validate your admissions or placement policies. The standard criterion for an ACES SAT placement validity study is an end-of-course grade in a specific college course. We recommend that you choose the course into which you place your students rather than the course out of which you will place students.

A predictor means a measure that you’re using to make your decisions and whose effectiveness you want to analyze. The standard predictor for an ACES SAT placement validity study is at least one SAT score. You can also add additional predictors such as your own institution’s placement tests to the study.

Submitting Your Student Data

Which Students to Include

To be included in the study sample, students must have scores on the predictor variables and on the criterion. Your results will help you make more accurate predictions if you keep these rules in mind:

  • The sample of students used for the study should be similar to the group of students whose success you want to predict. Characteristics of the population such as gender, ethnicity, and age should be represented in the sample.
  • The data for the predictor and the criterion need to be collected from all students at the same point in the course sequence.

For help in analyzing the validity of a predictor for a sequence of courses, contact the ACES staff.

Which Data to Include

You’ll need to supply identifying information on the students in your sample as well as student coursework data and related grades. Your file should also include any additional predictors of course performance that you plan to study (except SAT scores, which are taken from the College Board ACES database).

Submitting Your Data File

You’ll be prompted to submit a data file when you design a new study. You can upload a new data file or reuse one from a previous study if it meets the new study requirements.

Your data file format must be Microsoft Excel, Comma Separated Value (CSV), Tab Delimited (.txt), or SAS Transport (XPORT).

For detailed information on preparing your data file, see the ACES Data Preparation Guidelines in the Resources section. You can also download an Excel template with the correct data layout for the SAT placement validity study.

Getting Your Report

When your study is complete—within 20 business days of your completed request—we’ll notify you that your report is available on the ACES website and you can sign in to access it. You’ll get two deliverables:

  • A complete, printable report in PDF format that shows the strength of your chosen predictors of success—alone and in combination—with charts, tables, and detailed explanations.
  • A report in HTML format featuring interactive graphs.You can click to display or hide data, compare data, zoom in and out, take a snapshot, sort table columns, and more.


Do I need to submit a new data file for a placement study based on students analyzed in our admission study?

Provided that the previously submitted admission validity study file incorporates all data elements required for a placement validity study, you can request a new placement validity study and indicate that you plan to use an “existing data set.”

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Can we get placement information for our math and English courses at the same time?

Yes. ACES provides for analysis of up to 10 courses for any placement study request.

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We use SAT scores for admission. How can we tell if they could help us in placement?

It would make sense for you to conduct an SAT Placement Validity Study.

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If my institution primarily gives Pass/Fail grades, can we conduct a placement validity study?

In order to effectively evaluate how well a predictor is working, ACES requires a range of at least four points on a scale for the criterion. Students with Pass/Fail grades cannot be analyzed in the study.

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Can we include students with Fail, Incomplete, or Withdraw grades?

Generally, we have found that at most institutions failing grades, such as F or E, are calculated into the students' grade point average and are equivalent to zero grade/quality points; and Incomplete or Withdraw grades, such as I or W, are not incorporated into the GPA calculation. In these cases, students with failing grades should be included in your placement validity study, while students with Incomplete or Withdraw grades can be included in your file but will not be included in the placement validity analyses. When you are completing your grade mapping table you will note that grades such as W or I have “No Value” and will therefore not be analyzed in the study, while grades such as F or E are equivalent to a grade of 0.

These are only given as general guidelines. If you have a large number of students who failed the course you wish to study for any reason other than doing poorly on the tests and/or class work (such as, dropping the class or leaving the school without officially withdrawing), or if your Incomplete or Withdraw grades are calculated into the GPA, please contact the ACES staff to discuss your specific situation.

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What’s the minimum number of students needed for a placement validity study?

An AP placement validity study requires a minimum of 15 students whose AP scores and course-taking records indicate that they entered the higher-level course with AP credit. It also requires a minimum of 15 students without AP credit whose course-taking records indicate that they entered the higher-level course by completing the required introductory AP-equivalent course(s) at your institution.

A CLEP placement study requires a minimum of 15 students whose CLEP scores and course-taking records indicate that they entered the higher-level course with CLEP credit, and a minimum of 15 students without CLEP credit whose course-taking records indicate that they entered the higher-level course by completing the required introductory CLEP-equivalent course(s) at your institution.

For SAT and ACCUPLACER placement studies, course data for at least 30 students are required for a course placement analysis involving a single predictor measure. If one to three predictors are used, a minimum of 30 students is required; for four predictors, a minimum of 40 students; and for five predictors, a minimum of 50 students.

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How should we collect data for a placement validity study?

The ideal way to obtain data for a placement validity study would be to assign students randomly to the alternative learning situations (different courses, sections, levels, etc.) so that students with a full range of academic ability are in each learning situation. However, since this is rarely feasible, a study using the chosen test, without any randomization, can still provide useful information.

For SAT and ACCUPLACER placement validity studies, information from the tests or measures that are used as predictive variables is collected prior to the student entering the course of interest. The time between the testing of the student and the entrance into the course should not be lengthy. There should also not be any instructional intervention between the predictive test or measure and the start of the course.

For example, suppose you’re looking at students who took the SAT Math Test and then took the introductory math course at your institution. In this case, we don’t recommend including students who not only did those two things but also took your remedial math course before taking the introductory (credit-bearing) math course. Including these students will not give you an accurate analysis of the validity of SAT Math Test scores to predict success in your introductory math course.

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Are grades required for an SAT validity study?

Yes. SAT placement validity studies rely on course performance. However, grades do not need to follow a traditional scale. You will map course grades in the study design process.

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Can we include other commercial exams as a predictor in my ACES study?

No. ACES cannot be used to validate non-College Board commercial products.

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Which College Board testing programs are supported by ACES?

ACES supports the SAT, Advanced Placement Program (AP), ACCUPLACER, and the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP).

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Can I include more than one cohort?

Yes. Some institutions may need to include more than one cohort to reach minimum sample requirements. 

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