Colleges place too many on remedial track

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.

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON March 1, 2012

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[…] unreliable placement tests, community colleges place tens of thousands of  students in remedial classes they don’t need, lowering their odds for […]


Nearly half of the students who enter higher education in the United States, whether in two-year colleges or elite universities, require remedial work in writing or math. Often, however, the student who needs work in math is doing quite well in the humanities, and the math whiz is an ESL student who needs more English. The colleges cannot afford to place everyone in college-level English, even if they qualified, so the testing separates the well-prepared from the marginally ready. The gap between high school and college is a real one and a meaningful one. We have the best universities in the world, according to global measures, but our high schools are organized around social integration, not academic performance. Can you imagine a high school dominated by the nerds? Never gonna happen. So the remedial courses and the two-year colleges are there to bridge the gap? Do they make a difference? Definitely. Thousands of students graduate each spring who took at least one pre-collegiate course. One reasons for the change between high school and college is the age-appropriateness of the material. In hs, students are still children and treated accordingly. Signficant topics such as sex, violence, rock and roll, religion, sociopathy, and nutritional diet plans cannot be discussed in hs, for fear of parental uproar. In college, we are adults and we think like adults. You cannot imagine what a breath of freedom this allows a young person. In addition, many colleges are recruiting non-traditional students, who seem to show great improvement when a remedial class dusts off their old skills. The idea that placing low in math or English actually contributes to one’s low success in graduation is a sophistry. Of course, that is so. But don’t blame the messenger.

[…] Board’s Accuplacer and ACT’s Compass place too many students in dead-end remedial classes, according to research by the Community College Research Center.  College placement “based […]

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