Teaching “accelerated” English and math is very different from teaching a traditional remedial class, write Katie Hern and Myra Snell, in Toward a Vision of Accelerated Curriculum and Pedagogy. In the LearningWorks brief, the two community college professors draw on their work with the California Acceleration Project (CAP), a project of the California Community College Support Network (3CSN).
In traditional models of remediation, students often work on sub-skills, such as completing grammar exercises or reviewing a long list of arithmetic and algebra procedures from their prior schooling.
“We don’t believe that the basics should be separated out and front-loaded before students can tackle more challenging – and frankly, more interesting – tasks,” writes Hern. “Instead, we believe under-prepared students need practice with college-level skills, content, and ways of thinking. They need to reason their way through open-ended questions on topics that matter. They need to think. And if, along the way, we see that they are weak in some of the basics, we need to build in targeted support.”
At 12 California community colleges offering accelerated remediation, completion of college-level English increased by 50 percent. Accelerated math students were 3.3 times more likely to complete a college-level math course, according to preliminary results from a study by the Research and Planning Group.
Ninety percent of low-level remedial math students never earn a certificate or degree. That’s “Old Testament bad, rivers of blood bad,” says Uri Treisman, a University of Texas math and public affairs professor.
“The evidence is clear that requiring students to complete multiple semesters of remedial courses is just not working,” says Linda Collins, executive director of LearningWorks. But community colleges “need to think about not only curricular structure, but about how faculty are teaching.”
States and community colleges are trying several strategies to improve developmental education, concludes a Government Accountability Office report.
. . . two community colleges have implemented fast track classes that enable students to take two classes in one semester instead of in two semesters. One developmental education program in Washington places students directly into college level classes that also teach developmental education as part of the class.
Some community colleges help students prepare for placement tests, so they can qualify for college-level classes. And most colleges work with local high schools to align curricula.
However, it’s not clear whether remedial education reforms are boosting student success rates, the report concluded.
Fewer than 25 percent of developmental education students will complete a degree or certificate, researchers estimate.
Community College of Aurora near Denver is streamlining remediation with hopes of getting students into college-level classes in one semester. Some students have needed as much as two years of developmental education to qualify for college-level classes.
. . . traditionally those at the 60, or pre-college level, needed two six-credit courses in Reading and English. That coursework now will be merged into an integrated five-credit class in one semester covering writing/reading intensively, with a supporting studio course in those disciplines.
Those individuals testing at the 90 mark starting in the fall in English get a composite, three-credit course (that merges English 90 and Reading 90), paired with an English 121 co-requisite or have the option to concurrently link English 121 to a content-area course, which beginning in August will be Psychology 101.
Quantitative Literacy, a new course, will prepare students for Statistics and Math for Liberal Arts, while a STEM Prep course will train students for college-level Algebra.
Remedial students in Community College of Denver‘s FastStart were more likely to complete remediation and take and pass gatekeeper math courses, concludes a Community College Research Center study. However, FastStart was not linked to increased persistence or accumulation of college-level credits.
Fast Start was designed for students who test into at least two levels of developmental education in a particular subject area. The program combines multiple semester-length courses into a single intensive semester, while providing case management, career exploration, and educational planning services.
Acceleration, rather than case management, appeared to be “the catalyst driving superior course performance outcomes,” the study concluded.
FastStart has added learning communities that combine a developmental and college-level course. That may improve retention rates, researchers speculate.
Three models of accelerated developmental education are catching on at community colleges, according to WestEd’s Game Changers series. Acceleration cuts the time in remedial courses, letting students enroll more quickly—or immediately—in for-credit courses that lead to a certificate or degree. Acceleration strategies include:
Helping students avoid developmental education whenever possible
Revising the developmental education curriculum to shorten the sequence, align it with transfer-level and career technical coursework, and make it more rigorous
Providing additional student supports that are integrated with coursework
Providing remediation simultaneously with courses that lead to credentials
Customizing and contextualizing remediation along multiple academic and career pathways so that students learn math or language arts concepts based on their specific needs and on their desired instructional programs
Monitoring progress at regular intervals based on demonstrated competency rather than on seat time
“The most essential principle is for faculty to rethink the content of the developmental education sequence,” says Katie Hern, director of the California Acceleration Project, and a Chabot College English instructor.
On the English side, I question the way we’ve typically broken out our curriculum—such as teaching grammar first, then the sentence, then you step it up to work on paragraphs for a semester, then personal essays. There are assumptions that academic literacy can be broken into a linear subscale—that leads to a terrible curriculum. At Chabot College, we have a principle that what you need to do is practice the exact things college-level English will ask you to do. It’s the opposite of fragmentation. You are reading books, doing higher-order thinking, and writing essays. And you do that in developmental education classes. Students feel like they’re in a college English class—they just aren’t as good at it yet and they need additional supports.
Community college faculty are well aware of the high failure rates in traditional developmental education and open to new high ideas, say acceleration advocates.
Pima Community College‘s Sprint Schedule will let students complete a liberal arts associate degree in one year. Sprinters will take a mix of web-based, classroom and hybrid classes to earn least 23 credits in the fall and spring semesters and 15 credits in the summer semester. The recommended schedule requires only two days a week on campus at the Tucson college.
City University of New York’s ASAP program is cost effective when measured by dollars per degree, concludes a new study by Henry M. Levin and Emma Garcia. At six community colleges, more than half of ASAP students graduated in three years, compared to a quarter of similar students not in ASAP.
ASAP is designed to help motivated community college students earn their degrees as quickly as possible. Key ASAP program features include a consolidated block schedule, cohorts by major, small class size, required full-time study, and comprehensive advisement and career development services. Financial incentives include tuition waivers for financial aid eligible students and free use of textbooks and monthly Metrocards for all students.
Long plagued by a high failure rate, the college is now offering some students the opportunity to bypass at least one of their semester-long developmental classes in reading, math and English by completing them in a condensed three-week period.
Fast Track students take classes for three hours a day, four days. In August, 141 students qualified for college-level courses.
“For adults with children at home and complicated lives, it helps them get their degree more quickly,” said Cynthia Martin, Dean of Adult and Developmental Education. “Plus “it saves them money.”
Less than half of students who take basic math – arithmetic, fractions and decimals – pass the course at GRCC.
Lauro Mireles, an 18-year-old Holland resident, chose Fast Track instead of developmental math. It’s a quicker way to get what you want,” said Mireles, who’s pursuing an associate degree in automotive technology.
Colleges are rethinking placement exams, concludes a new Jobs for the Future report, Where to Begin? Researchers have found that placement exams have very high stakes and are weak predictors of college success. Furthermore, it’s not clear that developmental classes improve student outcomes. “Many students required to take remedial classes could have succeeded in college-level coursework,” recent studies suggest.
Math and English assessments provide at best a narrow picture of students’ readiness for college. Placement tests do not measure many of the skills needed for college success—including persistence, motivation, and critical thinking. And only some students need most of the assessed math skills.
Some colleges in New Jersey and California are relying less on placement test results and more on high school grades or other measures of college readiness.
Also being explored are practices such as mainstreaming students into college-level courses with extra support, basing placement on students’ academic goals, and allowing them to make their own placement decisions.
Florida and Virginia are aligning assessments to their curricula instead of using off-the-shelf tests. Texas hopes to develop a diagnostic assessment to evaluate students’ strengths and weaknesses. In the future may be assessments of students’ cognitive strategies, such as critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as on-cognitive factors such as persistence and motivation.
Until recently, students were advised not to bother studying for college placement exams. Now high schools and colleges are trying to help students prepare for the tests.
In some high schools, juniors take college placement tests to provide an early warning of what college requires and chance to catch up in 12th grade. Community colleges also are trying to help prospective students brush up on math or English skills before they’re placed in developmental classes.
“Accelerated Learning” is all the rage on community college campuses, writes David Clemens, an English professor at Monterey Peninsula College, on the National Association of Scholars blog. But is it a bullet train to success? Or an oxymoron?
Though advocates have trouble defining acceleration, it’s usually applied to remediation, Clemens writes. But why should colleges do remediation at all?
Why do colleges and universities maintain extensive and expensive machinery and personnel for remediation of students who have already and persistently failed at high school, junior high school, even elementary school skills?
Katie Hern of the California Acceleration Project argues that “placement is fate,” he writes. Few students who start three levels below college ever pass a college-level course, so she proposes eliminating low-level remedial courses and placement tests.
Twenty years ago, he watched “the construction of the remediation labyrinth.”
One dubious colleague called it “The Great Mitosis” as remediation crusaders split bonehead English into bonehead reading and bonehead writing, and the downhill race was on. Each course became two courses, then new courses, new and lower levels, more teaching load credit, an English Skills Center, a Math Skills Center, a Reading Center, a Lindamood-Bell Center, a Tutorial Center. . . . Today, students’ financial aid now can run out before they ever reach college level (such as it is).
“Accelerating” remediation collapses all those levels, “integrating reading and writing, just like the old days but with speedy, pervasive computing,” Clemens writes. ”So acceleration just might be the ticket…but to where?”