Using unreliable placement tests, community colleges place tens of thousands of students in remedial classes they don’t need, conclude two studies by the Community College Research Center. Starting in developmental education significantly lowers students’ odds for success.
In both an urban community college system and a statewide system, more than a quarter of the students assigned to remedial classes could have passed college-level courses with a grade of B or higher, researchers concluded. High school grade-point averages would be as good as or better than the placement tests, the authors said. Using both would be ideal, Clive Belfield, one of the authors, told the New York Times.
Many community colleges are rethinking remedial education, which is sometimes called higher education’s Bermuda Triangle.
“I haven’t seen the studies, but what I do know is that when I talk with leaders of community colleges, a lot of them have issues with the diagnostic tests and sense that far too many students are being put in developmental, remedial education, especially in math,” said Walter G. Bumphus, president of the American Association of Community Colleges. “Almost every one of them has some plan to change that.”
Some community colleges let students who place into remedial classes take a college-level class along with a support class to help with basic skills. Others tailor requirements to students’ course of study.
At Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota, each of the 27 majors has different admissions standards, so that, for example, precision-machining students need higher math scores than those studying cosmetology.
“We get some students with rusty math skills who do poorly on the test, and we send them to a Web site where they can brush up their skills and take the test again, and most of them do fine,” said Deb Shephard, Lake Area’s president. “It’s less than 5 percent of our entering students who need remediation, and they do it on their lunch hour, side by side with the other courses they’re taking.”
At some community colleges, students who place into developmental courses can choose to start at the college level, even if there’s no support class. They’re almost as likely to pass as their classmates and do as well as similar students who completed the remedial placement, earlier research has found.