Colorado makes progress on remediation

Aims Professor Jeanine Lewis runs through a quick review of complex numbers during class Friday at Aims Community College.

Joshua Polson at The Greeley Tribune
Professor Jeanine Lewis reviews complex numbers during class at Aims Community College.

Colorado’s community colleges and state universities are improving remedial success rates, according to an annual progress report. Statewide 62 percent of remedial students completed their course, up from 59 percent the previous year.

At community colleges, retention rates were higher for first-time remedial students than for classmates who started in college-level courses. Fifty-eight percent of remedial students — but only 55 percent of non-remedial students — returned for a second year.

Fewer high school graduates require remediation: At community colleges, the rate fell slightly to 64 percent.

Offering developmental classes in high schools and expanding dual enrollment has helped, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Lt. Governor Joseph Garcia, the former president of Colorado State University at Pueblo and of Pikes Peak Community College, has taken the lead. It’s not easy, he said.

For example, the state’s community colleges have worked to boil down three semesters of remedial coursework into just one. It’s a labor-intensive job. But the end result will mean students can complete remedial work and “gateway” courses in math and English in just one year.

. . . “That saves the student time and money. And that saves the state money,” Garcia said

State standards are better aligned with college placement requirements, said Garcia. In addition, Colorado uses GEAR UP, a federally funded program that “targets low-income students in middle and high schools, offering intensive advising, dual enrollment and college preparation courses.”

Colorado also has changed the way state aid to students is distributed, notes Inside Higher Ed. “Students now receive more aid when they hit milestones on their way to a credential. Awards are also decreased if students do not graduate on time.”

Students do well on fast track to college English

An accelerated one-semester reading and writing course helped remedial students succeed at California’s Chabot College, concludes a Community College Research Center study. Compared to students in the two-semester course, fast-tracked students were more likely to complete college English, earn a certificate or degree and transfer to a four-year college or university. They accumulated more credits and earned higher grades.

“I like the one-semester idea,” said an adjunct who’d taught both versions of the course. “I think when you give them two full semesters, you give them that much longer to find a reason to leave.”

However, some instructors believed weaker,  less confident students, especially immigrants still learning English, needed more time in developmental English. One veteran teacher said:

Maybe ESL students do need to be taking it a little bit slower because they are not just acquiring cognitive and academic skills. What they are acquiring are language skills. … And you can accelerate your progress to some degree, but a certain amount of that is just going to be time.

Chabot’s English department rejected “remedial pedagogy” — drill and practice on subskills — years ago, the researchers write. Assignments in developmental English are designed to mirror tasks students will be expected to perform in college-level English, but with “lower levels of complexity and more scaffolding.”

 Several instructors said the accelerated course helped students by more closely resembling the expectations in college-level courses. Fast-tracking gives students “that college feeling,” said a faculty member who teaches both developmental and college-level English courses. 

While fast-tracking remedial English had “greater benefits for students with higher English and reading placement scores,” lower-skilled students weren’t harmed, the study found.

Accelerated teaching

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.”

GAO looks at remedial ed ideas

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.

CC cuts remediation to one semester

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.

FastStart boosts math success, but not retention

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.

Accelerating developmental ed

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.

One year to a two-year degree

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.

Study: ASAP cuts cost per graduate

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.

ASAP costs more, but the cost per graduate is less, the study found. “ASAP can increase considerably the number of CUNY community college graduates while actually reducing costs.”

CC fast-tracks catch-up class

Grand Rapids Community College is fast-tracking remedial education to boost success rates, reports Michigan Live.

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.