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?”
Faced with poor success rates for students placed in remedial classes, community colleges are Doing Developmental Education Differently, reports Inside Out, a new publication by the Community College Research Center‘s Scaling Innovation project.
Roughly 45 percent of students who place into a developmental math course one level below the college level complete their remediation requirements. Among students who begin three or more levels below college math, only 17 percent complete their entire developmental sequence. More than half of students who do complete all of their developmental courses do not complete the subsequent gatekeeper course.
Learning communities, compressed courses and mainstreaming hold promise for improved outcomes, CCRC research has found, but benefits “appear to be modest and relatively short-term.” Scaling Innovation seeks to understand how small-scale innovations can be expanded and adapted to “generate significant long-term impacts.”
Scaling Innovation is working on replicating several models:
The Accelerated Learning Project (ALP) at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) places eight upper-level developmental writing students in introductory college composition with 12 “college-ready” classmates. ALP students simultaneously take a companion course taught by the same instructor.
Concepts of Numbers for Arithmetic and Pre-algebra at Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania “employs a conceptual rather than topic-focused approach in teaching arithmetic in order to make mathematical connections more transparent and to provide students with sustained practice in foundational elements of quantitative reasoning.”
The California Acceleration Project (CAP) pilots new English and math classes that shorten the developmental sequence and teach “the most essential skills and habits of mind required for student success.”
Developmental summer bridge programs helped prepare low-skilled students for college in Texas, concludes the National Center for Postsecondary Research (NCPR) Teachers College. Compared to a control group, bridge participants at seven community colleges and one open-admissions university were more likely to take and pass college-level math and writing classes in the fall semester. Participants also attempted higher-level classes in reading, writing and math.
All developmental summer bridge programs had four common features: accelerated instruction in math, reading, and/or writing; academic support; a “college knowledge” component; and the opportunity for participants to receive a $400 stipend.
Program costs averaged about $1,300 per student but varied widely.
Most summer bridge students needed more remediation in the fall: 32 percent of summer bridge students passed college-level writing during their first semester of college compared with 27 percent of control group students. Only nine percent passed college-level math, which sounds dreadful but is more than twice the four percent pass rate for the control group.
Acceleration worked at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), said Conchita Hickey, executive director of the University College.
Instead of just lecturing and doing problems on the board, we broke students into small groups with tutors, and we had a required, structured lab. A continuing observation from faculty over the years has been that the students who pass developmental math are the ones who do their homework. And so I think the lab that accompanies our program is key—the students are there and they don’t have an excuse not to do their homework.
. . . now I don’t even want to offer beginning algebra during our regular school year. We have begun piloting intermediate algebra alongside college algebra so students take them together in learning communities.
A significant percentage of bridge students skip one or two levels in just five weeks, said Hickey.
Had these students not participated, they might have had to start in beginning algebra, and then they would have had to do intermediate algebra and only then get to college algebra. And all of those different levels cost money, and they cost time.
Nationwide, six out of ten students entering community college need at least one remedial class and only 25 percent of these students ever go on to earn a college degree or credential.
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.