Changes coming to ALEKS Math Assessment this year

January 25, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State will not require students entering Penn State in summer and fall 2021 to take the ALEKS Math Assessment if they have completed a calculus course in high school. This change will be the first in a series of changes intended to reduce reliance on ALEKS and improve student outcomes in math, statistics and chemistry courses.

The changes to ALEKS will affect how Penn State places some incoming students in math and science courses as well as changing how incoming students make a reservation for New Student Orientation (NSO).

The Undergraduate Admissions Office collects information on whether students have completed a high school calculus course, and this information will be used to pre-populate the ALEKS field in LionPATH with a score of 101. This will allow automatic pre-requisite checking to function correctly and provide a clear indication to advisers and faculty that this was a placement score and not an earner score since the top ALEKS score a student can earn is 100. The ALEKS score is passed to Starfish (academic advising), VZO (NSO reservations) and Slate (undergraduate admissions communications). All students are still eligible to complete the ALEKS Math Assessment if they wish, and personalized instructions will be available to each student through the NSO Tasklist.

The ALEKS Math Assessment was previously a required step taken by all incoming first-year students. The test is used by Penn State to help assess student-readiness for certain math, statistics and chemistry courses. The test was taken by students at home before they could register for a New Student Orientation (NSO) program. Students who have not taken calculus in high school will still be required to complete ALEKS before arriving at NSO or they won’t be able to schedule math and science courses at that time.

The changes stem from the recommendations of a task force charged to review the efficacy of ALEKS after concerns were raised that students may be getting outside help on the test and inflating scores. The 17-member task force is comprised mostly of math and science faculty from colleges and campuses across Penn State, along with administrators across the University. Jeff Adams, associate vice president and associate dean of Undergraduate Education, co-chaired the committee alongside Mary Beth Williams, senior associate dean of instruction and curriculum and professor of chemistry in the Eberly College of Science.

This change to the ALEKS testing process represents the first of several future changes intended to reduce reliance on the test. Adams said that as the task force works through additional implementation details, there will more adjustments to ALEKS testing needs and their use as prerequisites.

The current recommended change, that enrolling in a calculus course in high school would deem a student ready for college-level calculus, and thus making ALEKS optional for these incoming students, was approved by the University Academic Measurements Council. The highest math course that a student can place into via the ALEKS Math Assessment is Calculus I (MATH 140), and many students will continue to use AP scores to place beyond this level using standard processes.

Before taking ALEKS, students are advised that there is no benefit to inflating or deflating their abilities on the assessment. A poor score on ALEKS won’t prevent an already-accepted student from attending Penn State. It is used as a benchmark by academic advisers and educators to determine which courses students should take to ensure they have a good foundation in math, especially those who are entering majors requiring calculus sequencing. Incoming students who do not take the test seriously risk underperforming on the exam and may find themselves placed in math courses in which they have already mastered the material. Those who get outside help on the test or use software for help may find they are placed in courses that are too difficult. In both instances, students may find that being placed in the wrong course can cost them time and money and possibly hurt their GPA. These issues led the task force to reassess the use of ALEKS.

Penn State will also be examining the long-term effects of reducing reliance on ALEKS by observing students’ outcomes.

The Penn State Office of Undergraduate Education is the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at undergrad.psu.edu.

Last Updated January 25, 2021