Community college students placed in remedial classes usually fail, reports Kathy Baron, writing for Thoughts on Public Education. It’s a huge problem in California: Eighty-five percent of incoming community college students aren’t prepared for college math and 70 percent aren’t ready for college English, according to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office. Worse, four out of five remedial students had a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher, concludes the Diploma to Nowhere (pdf) report.
Kyle, a first-year student at Foothill College in Los Altos when I spoke with him a while ago, told me that his GPA was 3.7 and he nailed the exit exam on his first try as a sophomore in high school. A classmate of his had a 3.5 GPA and considered herself one of the “smart kids” in high school. Both of them flunked the math placement exam and wound up in basic skills math. “It was a shock when I came to this class and the first thing I was learning was addition and subtraction,” said Kyle.
But accelerating the remedial track is helping some California students make it to college-level classes. Katie Hern, who developed an intensive, one-semester remedial English course at Chabot College, and Myra Snell, who did the same for math at Los Medanos Community College, are traveling across the state to hold workshops on acceleration for other instructors. Accelerated remedial students are nearly twice as likely to pass a college-level English class as students in a two-semester remedial sequence, Hern reports. Snell sees early success with an accelerated class linked to statistics, the college-level math class most remedial students will take — if they get that far.
During one role-playing session, a group of math teachers grappled with concerns over tracking students and the amount of algebra most people really need to know. Acceleration means that some lessons are eliminated from the curriculum. . . . ”If math folks are making the argument that they need all this content in algebra to be a well-rounded human being, I really want to say to them, ‘Okay, let’s go through that curriculum and think about factoring trinomials,’ ” argued Snell. “Do we hold that piece of content so dear that we’re willing to let 90% of our students never achieve a college degree because of it?”
Seventeen California community college math and English departments are participating in a six-month program run by Hern and Snell to develop accelerated remedial courses.