Remedial education in college

4 Mar

Whether or not students choose college or vocational training at the end of their high school career, our goal as a society should be that children should be “college ready.” David T. Conley writes in the ASCD article, What Makes a Student College Ready?

The Big Four

A comprehensive college preparation program must address four distinct dimensions of college readiness: cognitive strategies, content knowledge, self-management skills, and knowledge about postsecondary education.

Key Cognitive Strategies

Colleges expect their students to think about what they learn. Students entering college are more likely to succeed if they can formulate, investigate, and propose solutions to nonroutine problems; understand and analyze conflicting explanations of phenomena or events; evaluate the credibility and utility of source material and then integrate sources into a paper or project appropriately; think analytically and logically, comparing and contrasting differing philosophies, methods, and positions to understand an issue or concept; and exercise precision and accuracy as they apply their methods and develop their products.

Key Content Knowledge

Several independently conducted research and development efforts help us identify the key knowledge and skills students should master to take full advantage of college. Standards for Success (Conley, 2003) systematically polled university faculty members and analyzed their course documents to determine what these teachers expected of students in entry-level courses. The American Diploma Project (2004) consulted representatives of the business community and postsecondary faculty to define standards in math and English. More recently, both ACT (2008) and the College Board (2006) have released college readiness standards in English and math. Finally, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (2008), under mandate of state law, developed one of the first and most comprehensive sets of state-level college readiness standards….

Key Self-Management Skills

In college, students must keep track of massive amounts of information and organize themselves to meet competing deadlines and priorities. They must plan their time carefully to complete these tasks. They must be able to study independently and in informal and formal study groups. They must know when to seek help from academic support services and when to cut their losses and drop a course. These tasks require self-management, a skill that individuals must develop over time, with considerable practice and trial-and-error.

Key Knowledge About Postsecondary Education

Choosing a college, applying, securing financial aid, and then adjusting to college life require a tremendous amount of specialized knowledge. This knowledge includes matching personal interests with college majors and programs; understanding federal and individual college financial aid programs and how and when to complete appropriate forms; registering for, preparing for, and taking required admissions exams; applying to college on time and submitting all necessary information; and, perhaps most important, understanding how the culture of college is different from that of high school….

Students who would be the first in their family to attend college, students from immigrant families, students who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups traditionally underrepresented in college, and students from low-income families are much more easily thrown off the path to college if they have deficiencies in any of the four dimensions.

The difficult question is whether current testing accurately measures whether students are prepared for college.

Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit based at Teachers College, ColumbiaUniversity that produces in-depth education journalism writes a guest post for the Washington Post, Many students could skip remedial classes, studies find:

Even as policymakers struggle to reform remedial-education requirements blamed for derailing the aspirations of countless community-college students, two new studies suggest that many of those students would do fine without them.

The studies, both by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, found that as many as a third of students sidetracked into remedial classes because of their scores on standardized tests would have earned a B or better if they had simply proceeded directly to college-level courses.

Three out of five of all entering community-college students are required to take remedial classes in math and other subjects, spending time and tuition money reviewing material they should have learned in high school, yet earning no credit from these classes toward their degrees.

More than 75 percent never graduate — in many cases, the researchers say, because they drop out from boredom and frustration. Providing remedial education also costs community colleges an estimated $2.5 billion a year.

Most rely on two principal standardized tests, called COMPASS and ACCUPLACER, to measure students’ college readiness. The researchers said their findings show those test scores should not be the only trigger for diverting students into remedial courses.

They said high-school grade-point averages were better gauges of preparedness for college-level work and would reduce the number of students assigned to remedial courses by from 15 to as much as 50 percent.

Researchers arrived at these conclusions by examining the performance of 19,000 students entering a large urban community college and a state community-college system over several years. They declined to name the school or state, but said the results were convincing enough to apply to all community colleges….

Community colleges spend so much time trying to fix the remedial-education process, Overton said, because “it’s a bottleneck for students, and impairing them, and we want them to get through, and to get through as quickly as they can.”

Tamar Lewin of the New York Times also reports on the studies.

In, Colleges Misassign Many to Remedial Classes, Studies Find, Lewin reports:

Two new studies from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College have found that community colleges unnecessarily place tens of thousands of entering students in remedial classes — and that their placement decisions would be just as good if they relied on high school grade-point averages instead of standardized placement tests.

The studies address one of the most intractable problems of higher education: the dead end of remedial education. At most community colleges, a majority of entering students who recently graduated from high school are placed in remedial classes, where they pay tuition but earn no college credit. Over all, less than a quarter of those who start in remedial classes go on to earn two-year degrees or transfer to four-year colleges.

The studies, one of a large urban community college system and the other of a statewide system, found that more than a quarter of the students assigned to remedial classes based on their test scores could have passed college-level courses with a grade of B or higher.

We hear a lot about the high rates of failure in college-level classes at community colleges,” said Judith Scott-Clayton, the author of the urban study and a Teachers College professor of economics and education and senior research associate. “Those are very visible. What’s harder to see are the students who could have done well at college level but never got the chance because of these placement tests.”

The colleges’ use of the leading placement tests — the College Board’s Accuplacer and ACT’s Compass — lead to mistakes in both directions, the studies find, but students going into college-level classes they cannot handle is not as serious as unnecessary remedial placement, which often derails college careers.

Although the placement tests have been widely used since the late 1980s, students rarely understand how much is at stake. Typically, students are told that they need not worry about the tests because they are for placement — and very few colleges encourage them to prepare as they would for a college-entrance exam like the SAT.

The studies found that using high school grade-point averages as the basis for placement would be as good as or better than using the placement tests, but the authors stopped short of recommending that community colleges simply drop the tests and use high school transcripts when available.

Jane V. Wellman and Bruce Vandal write about remedial education for Inside Higher Ed.

In the article, 5 Myths of Remedial Education, Wellman and Vandal write:

College leaders say that high school teachers, not professors, should make sure students are meeting basic standards. State legislators say they shouldn’t have to pay twice to educate students. And everyone admits that remedial education is not working, with just 25 percent of community college students who receive it going on to complete a college credential. Recognizing that increasing college attainment is a linchpin in creating more jobs and growing the economy, what to do about remedial education is an issue that would benefit from clear thinking. Here are five powerful myths shared by policy makers and educators alike that clearly hinder our pursuit of college success.

Myth 1: Remedial Education is K-12’s problem

As the last stop before college, the obvious culprit for our remedial education problem is our nation’s high schools, right? After all, K-12 graduation standards are not rigorous enough or aligned with the college-ready standards set by state colleges and universities. If high schools would merely adopt those college-ready standards, the problem would be solved….

Because colleges have not clearly articulated the skills that students must possess to be college-ready, students are blindsided when they are placed into remedial courses, and high schools don’t have a clear benchmark for preparing students for success. Higher education can no longer kick the can down the road to K-12. The two must share accountability for student results.

Setting college-ready standards is not an easy proposition, but one simple solution would be for each state to set a universal cut score that would fully exempt students from remedial education. Both the ACT and the SAT have suggested cut scores that are aligned with data they have collected illustrating the likelihood of success in college-level courses. States should simply adopt these cut scores.

Myth 2: Remedial Education is a Short-Term Problem

Because of the prevalent view that remedial education is a temporary problem that the new common core high school standards will solve, educators and policy makers approach remedial education through largely stopgap measures built on part-time and temporary staff and coursework that doesn’t give students the skill-building they need.

Even if every high school graduate were college-ready, we would still need to have remedial education. The reason: students enter college from a variety of circumstances, including laid-off workers in need of retraining, working adults returning to college to upgrade their credentials to get better jobs, or former dropouts coming back to finish a degree. Because a majority of states are projecting declines in the number of new high school graduates, colleges will have to do even more to attract older adults back into college with an on-ramp that is convenient and customizable. Many of these nontraditional students will require refresher courses in math and English, and others will need to develop new knowledge and skills….

Myth 3: Colleges Effectively Determine College Readiness

Recent research from the Community College Research Center found that the placement tests students take do not provide a precise diagnosis of student skill deficiencies. The exams were intended to be a general predictor of success in college-level courses, not to identify which skills students are lacking. Unfortunately, many campuses are misusing these placement exams as crude diagnostic tools by setting arbitrary scores to determine if a student is placed in one, two or three levels of remedial education courses. Consequently, students are often placed in one or more semesters of remedial courses that may or may not be addressing their specific skill deficiencies. Even worse, research done in the Virginia Community College System suggests that many students placed in remedial education are perfectly capable of succeeding in college-level work without remediation.

One simple solution would be for institutions to use other available factors, like high school G.P.A., along with the placement exam to assess student readiness. High school G.P.A. is a good proxy for student motivation and academic skills. In addition, both ACT’s COMPASS and the College Board’s Accuplacer have diagnostic and other assessments that pinpoint student deficiencies and measure factors like student motivation.

Myth 4: Remedial Education is Bankrupting the System

One of the most prevalent myths is that remedial education is a major cause of the college cost crisis, forcing institutions to spend precious dollars on getting students up to speed. The thinking is that once the remedial educational problem is solved, institutions will be able to reap major savings that can be reallocated elsewhere.

Remedial education is actually inexpensive for the colleges – because institutions don’t use regular faculty for the courses, and the technology required is cheap. A study by the Board of Regents in Ohio — one of the few states that actually have cost data for remedial education — found that although 38 percent of incoming freshmen were taking remedial coursework. This translated to only 5 percent of actual full-time students, and around 3.6 percent of undergraduate instructional costs. That doesn’t mean remedial education is cost-effective for states or students who waste their time and money on something that’s not working. But the financial incentives are all in the wrong direction, rewarding institutions for cycling students through, rather than completing a degree…

Myth 5: Maybe Some Students are Just Not College Material

The most insidious of myths is the notion that some students may not be college material. After all, as this myth goes, students who are not college-ready may not possess the motivation, interest and wherewithal to succeed. These students should just learn a trade and move on. This ignores the reality that some postsecondary education is the ticket to the middle class, and that many students go to college to get the knowledge and skills needed to move into a trade. They need to have the basic skills in reading, math and writing to do that, even if they don’t want to go on to get a four-year degree…

Moreover, new research by Anthony Carnevale and Stephen J. Rose shows that college has benefits for employers who hire people like cashiers and construction workers, plumbers and police officers. These workers make more money than their non-college educated peers, and contribute more to their organizations by innovating and solving problems. So the benefit goes to the organization and to the individual.

The lack of clear college-ready standards, poor assessment practices, the lack of customized learning options and the cost in time and money to students make it clear that postsecondary institutions are not committed to ensuring the success of millions of students who seek a college credential.

K-12 education must not only prepare students by teaching basic skills, but they must prepare students for training after high school, either college or vocational. There should not only be a solid education foundation established in K-12, but there must be more accurate evaluation of whether individual students are “college ready.”


States Push Remedial Education to Community Colleges

What are ACT’s College Readiness Benchmarks?

Dr. Wilda says this about this about that ©

7 Responses to “Remedial education in college”


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