Researchers say community colleges place too many students in dead-end remedial classes, reports Education Week.
“Remediation is the typical experience now,” especially at urban community colleges, said Judith Scott-Clayton, an assistant professor of economics and education at Teachers College and an author of an influential study that analyzed an urban and statewide community college system. Eighty percent of urban students and 70 percent of statewide students failed the math placement test. Yet a look at students’ high school transcripts showed a different story.
She found that 20 percent of students placed in remedial math and 25 percent of those placed in remedial reading were “severely misidentified,” meaning that not only could they have passed the entry college course in that subject, but they could have done so with a grade of B or better.
“The high school transcript info is basically more accurate for every group we look at,” Ms. Scott-Clayton said. “It’s true that it’s more subjective, but you are getting multiple measurements accumulated over time across several instructors. And it is capturing a broader array of skills, not just pure mechanical test-taking skills, but effort, persistence, motivation—things that we know matter a lot for college success.”
However, she found results uneven for specific racial groups: While fewer Hispanic students were placed in remedial courses using high school information, more young black men were pulled into remediation.
At several Texas community colleges requiring universal placement tests, 30 percent of students assigned to remediation were ”college ready” based on their scores on the ACT, SAT, and state test scores, a RAND researcher concluded. Texas will develop its own placement test aligned to state college readiness standards.
The new assessment includes diagnostic tests to identify specific problem areas in each subject, and the coordinating board will require colleges and universities to use those to plan more targeted remediation—for example, enrolling a student in a credit-bearing class while providing tutoring or an elective class to fill gaps in the student’s knowledge in that subject.
The diagnostic part of the exam will help students catch up quickly, so they don’t have “to take a 15-week course, go into this sinking hole, and rot for the next two years,” said Judith Loredo, the assistant commissioner for the P-16 initiative.