USC Community College

USC Community College

The purpose of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of developmental math placement policies on student success in community college. The main research question that guides the study is: What are the effects of placement decisions on the educational outcomes of community college students? To answer this question we draw on economic and governance theories and employ quantitative and qualitative methods to explore how assessment and placement policies are designed and implemented and how effective they are in ensuring student progress through the developmental math sequence.

The research was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences (IES).


  1. Description of the assessment and placement (A&P) policies: The decentralized nature of the governance structure of the LACCD implies that each college in the district has the discretion to set the A&P policies that best fit the students in their colleges. This has resulted in very different A&P policies in each of the nine colleges that we document in great detail.
  2. Evaluate A&P policies for developmental math on student success in developmental education trajectory: We used a regression-discontinuity design (RDD) within a time hazard model to estimate the effect of assignment to different levels of the preparatory math trajectory on short- and long-term educational outcomes. The outcomes we examined relate to a student’s academic performance and include:

    • passing the subsequent course of the sequence
    • accumulating over 30 credits in degree applicable courses
    • accumulating over 30 credits in transfer-level courses

We chose a RDD approach because this is a technique that enables the researcher to make causal inferences when randomization is not feasible. The general idea is that the researcher “assigns” individuals to the treatment and control groups rather than the fair coin toss that is common in randomized trials. Employing a regression discontinuity design, we run an intent to treat (ITT) analysis to measure the effectiveness of assessment and placement policies on student success. We also contribute to the literature by running a hazard model to estimate the effectiveness of these policies over time as well as evaluate how the impact of these policies varies across the courses that constitute the math sequence.

Research Papers

Academic Papers

Qualitative Paper

How are community colleges students assessed and placed in developmental math: Grounding our understanding in reality. Tatiana Melguizo, Holly Kosiewicz, George Prather & Johannes M. Bos. (Forthcoming in the Journal of Higher Education).

Quantitative Paper

Using a Regression Discontinuity Design to Estimate the Impact of Placement Decisions in Developmental Math. Tatiana Melguizo, Johannes M. Bos & George Prather

Research Briefs

Are community colleges making good placement decisions in their math trajectories? Tatiana Melguizo, Johannes M. Bos and George Prather

How are assessment and placement policies for developmental math designed and implemented in California community colleges? Holly Kosiewicz, Tatiana Melguizo, George Prather and Johannes M. Bos.

A different view of how we understand progression through the developmental math trajectory. Kristen Fong, Tatiana Melguizo, George Prather and Johannes M. Bos

Course placement in developmental mathematics: do multiple measures work? Federick Ngo, Will Kwon, Tatiana Melguizo, George Prather and Johannes M. Bos

Working Papers

Los Angeles Community College District

Over the past seventy-seven years, the Los Angeles Community College District has served as educator to more than three million students. Affordable, accessible and practical, the LACCD offers opportunity to all. Our doors are wide open for a diverse student population eager for skills, knowledge and upward mobility. LACCD educates almost three times as many Latino students and nearly four times as many African-American students as all of the University of California campuses combined. Eighty percent of LACCD students are from underserved populations.

Community colleges serve adults of all ages, meeting the needs of a society where “lifelong learning” is the rule and multiple careers and continual retraining are the norm. More than half of all LACCD students are older than 25 years of age, and more than a quarter are 35 or older. More than any other California system of higher education, community colleges offer a first – and a second – chance for anyone who wants to succeed.

College Profiles

Assessment & Placement Policies

School Websites

East Los Angeles College (ELAC)

1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez
Monterey Park, CA 91754

Los Angeles Mission College (LAMC)

13356 Eldridge Avenue
Sylmar, CA 91342

Los Angeles Valley College (LAVC)

800 Fulton Avenue
Valley Glen, CA 91401

Los Angeles City College (LACC)

855 N. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029

Los Angeles Southwest College (LASC)

1600 West Imperial Highway
Los Angeles, CA 90047

Pierce College

6201 Winnetka Avenue
Woodland Hills, CA 91371

Los Angeles Harbor College (LAHC)

1111 Figueroa Place
Wilmington, CA 907449

Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC)

400 West Washington Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90015

West Los Angeles College (WLAC)

9000 Overland Avenue
Culver City, CA 90230


Principal Investigators

Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California

Tatiana Melguizo, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the USC Rossier School of Education. She works in the field of economics of higher education. She uses quantitative methods of analysis to study the association of different factors such as student trajectories as well as public policies on the persistence and educational outcomes of minority and low-income students. Dr. Melguizo earned her Ph.D. in economics of education at Stanford University and also holds a master’s degree in social policy and planning in developing countries from the London School of Economics. Her work has been published in Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Teachers College Record, The Journal of Higher Education, The Review of Higher Education, and Research in Higher Education and Higher Education.

American Institutes for Research (AIR)

Johannes M. Bos, Ph.D., a vice president of Education, Human Development, and the Workforce at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). He is an expert in program evaluation and policy analysis in the areas of education, welfare reform, and labor policy. In his 20-year career in policy research, Dr. Bos has designed and directed numerous large-scale evaluation studies, ranging in scope from evaluations of professional development for child care workers to evaluations of contracting practices in the U.S. workforce investment system. Within all of these projects, Dr. Bos provides particular leadership in the areas of study design, data collection, and statistical analysis. Dr. Bos earned his Ph.D. in Public Administration from NYU in 1995 and also holds a master’s degree in Architecture and Urban Planning from Delft University in the Netherlands. He has published in Child Development, the Journal of Human Resources, and Evaluation Review.

Los Angeles Community College District

George Prather, Ph.D. served as Chief of the Office of Institutional Research and Information in the District Office of the Los Angeles Community Colleges for over two decades and as such is the architect of the Institutional Research Data System of the district which brings together student enrollment records, assessment data, student demographic information and survey data from the nine colleges of the district. He also served as the principal research support for the Student Success Initiative of the Los Angeles Community Colleges investigating student assessment, placement and success. He received a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an M.A and B.A. also in Political Science from the University of Iowa.

Research Assistants

Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California

  • Holly Kosiewicz, M.A. is a Ph.D. student in the Urban Education Policy program at the University of Southern California. She uses qualitative and quantitative methods to evaluate policies that seek to improve success among college students who are low-income and of color. She has a Master’s in International Development from the Heller School for Social Policy at Brandeis University and has conducted education research in the U.S., Colombia, and Peru.
  • Kristen E. Fong, M.A. is a doctoral student and research assistant in the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the USC Rossier School of Education. She utilizes quantitative methods to examine the various factors and pathways that play a role in community college students’ persistence and success. Kristen graduated from Claremont-McKenna College with a dual major in Economics and Psychology and earned her Master’s degree in Psychology at California State University, Fullerton.
  • Federick Ngo, M.A. is a doctoral student in the Ph.D. program in Urban Education Policy at the USC Rossier School of Education. He studies access, persistence, and success in postsecondary education for low-income and minority students as well as math instruction in urban schools. Federick earned master’s degrees from Stanford University in educational administration and policy analysis, and the teaching of mathematics. Prior to joining the doctoral program at USC Rossier, he taught high school mathematics for several years in Oakland, California.
  • Bo Kim
  • Will Kwon
  • Amber Hroch

American Institutes for Research (AIR)

  • Lindsay Poland
  • Nicholas Mills

Undergraduate Assistants

  • Samantha Castillo
  • John Hernandez
  • Dorothy Le
  • Janet Nhan
  • Robert Raad
  • George Wu


Dr. Tatiana Melguizo
Phone: (213) 740-3635