Picking the best path

As I sit here writing, I’m remembering a time when I had to make a decision without fully understanding my choices.  I remember feeling anxious and unsure of how it would turn out.  I recall trusting others with valuable information to help me process the decision and learn about my options.  In some cases, it was empowering when I was able to make a positive decision about my path with the help others.  Even with all the information and best support, sometimes I still made a bad choice for myself.

Looking back, I wonder how others decided if I should be given the chance to make the decision or if they should make the decision for me.  It would be my hope that others allowed me to make a choice when they felt I would be empowered and successful.  I hope that when it has been noticed that multiple individuals struggle with the same choice I was offered, the expert would make the choice for us.  Now that I think about it, it must be hard for experts to know when to make the choices for others or give the choice to me.  Offering too much choice too soon is harmful.  Limiting choice unnecessarily is hurtful.  So how do we decide?

In my experience, my capacity to make an informed choice depends on the complexity of the options, consequences of the decision, and my confidence in the expert.  If the options are complex, the consequences are significant, and I trust the expert more than myself, I would want to the decision to be made for me.  If the expert makes the options easy and the consequences are low, it seems like giving me the choice would be empowering.  As with everything, what may be best for me may not best for everyone.  I can see how it would be hard for an expert to evaluate in the moment if a choice should be given to or made for me.

Every day in the GCC Testing Center, we are balancing the right for individuals to choose how to complete their placement exams.  Students have choice on whether to take all exams at once or split up the Reading, Writing, and Math placement exams up into different testing sessions.  Students have the choice on the order they take the exams.  These choices may influence the outcome.  It is difficult to blame these choices on the course placement outcome.

In the past, we gave students a direct choice on which of the 3 math placement exams to take.  We found that students struggled understanding the options for the math exam.  We knew about the struggle because we frequently had to repeat the question in different ways, explain our terminology, and still received looks of confusion and bewilderment.  So now we make the choice for students (everyone starts with the moderately difficult exam and goes up or down based upon their answers). We made this change to reduce the possibility that the selected exam artificially lowered course placement for a student.  We knew this change may increase the testing time for students who needed to take 2 exams.  We decided the increase in testing time was worth it because the results would lead to more accurate course placement.  Accurate course placement is the most important goal when we test incoming students.


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