Student success depends on motivation as well as academic preparation. A new ETS test called SuccessNavigator claims to measure students’ readiness to show up for class, ask question and persevere, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Steven Robbins, director of research innovation at ETS, said the test can be used in tandem with conventional placement exams to find students with remedial needs who have the motivation and other non-academic tools for success in college – a suite of attributes some researchers have dubbed “grit.”
“It makes sense to try it because we know the traditional methods aren’t working,” said Melinda Mechur Karp, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
Students take the 30-minute test online at a cost of $5 (to the college). It assesses their commitment, self-management and social support, as well as academic readiness. In addition to generating a report to a counselor, the student gets a “customized action plan” with advice on seeking out tutoring or careering counseling or improving their health and wellness.
City Colleges of Chicago, which is field-testing SuccessNavigator, may use it to identify remedial students who could move quickly to college-level courses, said Rasmus Lynnerup, vice chancellor for strategy and institutional intelligence. The test “allows us to have a personal relationship with students” as soon as they arrive, he said.
Santa Monica College used the test in its student success course, said Brenda Benson, dean of counseling and retention.
Instructors received classroom-level reports after students took the test. While not providing results for individual students, Benson said instructors were able to see how the class stacked up on about 15 measures, like social supports or time management skills. They could then tailor their instruction based on each group of students’ overall needs.
Faculty “found it really useful,” Benson said, adding that “students seem to love it.”
Community colleges, chronically short on support staff, may use the exam to make advising more efficient. I wonder if high schools will be interested as a way to focus students on improving their non-academic readiness for college.
Twenty-five percent of ACT test takers in 2012 were prepared for college, according to ACT’s 2012 Condition of College and Career Readiness report. Sixty-seven percent were ready to pass a college writing course, 52 percent were prepared to read a social science textbook, 46 percent were ready for college algebra and 31 were likely to pass biology.
Forty percent of ACT test takers reached the readiness benchmark in three areas. Twenty-eight percent didn’t qualify in any subject.
Passing an ACT benchmark means a student has a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better and a 75 percent chance of earning at least a C.
Thirty-seven percent of test takers want to earn a professional or graduate degree, 45 percent will settle or a bachelor’s and 5 percent are aiming at an associate degree.
Thirty-eight states are measuring 11th-graders college readiness, reports the Community College Research Center in Reshaping the College Transition. Some use state exams,while others use the ACT, SAT or community college placement tests. Even more states are expected to start testing when Common Core State Standards’ assessments are available.
Twenty-nine states are using catch-up courses or online tutorials to prevent students from landing in remedial education.
Most community college students aren’t ready for college or the workforce concludes a National Center on Education and the Economy study. Colleges have lowered standards to accommodate poorly prepared students, writes the NCEE’s Marc Tucker.
Very little writing at all is required in most programs. The writing that is required is of a very simply sort. Students, for example, are rarely required to argue a position logically and marshal data on behalf of that argument. The typical first year community college text is written at an 11th or 12th level (which one would think would be a year or two below the level of community college), but it turns out that most high school graduates cannot read with comprehension at that level, because the typical high school text is written at the 8th or 9th grade level. So our community college instructors prepare Power Point presentations to make sure that the students get the main points in the text.
Community college students don’t need to know high school math, but they do need middle school math, writes Tucker. Most never really learned it. Some community college vocational programs require math that’s not taught in high school, such as “mathematics modeling, and the ability to read and interpret schematic diagrams and logic diagrams of the sort required for computer programming.”
The typical textbook for the programs we looked at does require mathematics, but it seems that that mathematics is neither taught nor tested, presumably because the instructors do not think the students can do it.
Many 12th graders go to community college to do 8th- or 9th-grade work, Tucker writes. About a third of high school graduates aren’t ready for 8th-grade work. “Many of the rest, apparently, those who are admitted to credit-bearing courses at their community college, have only the shakiest command of 8th and 9th grade mathematics, reading and writing.”
Community college standards are clearly in the basement. They should be much higher. But, if we were to talk to the community college instructors about this, they would undoubtedly say that they are doing the best they can, that we should go and talk to the high school people, who are responsible for sending them students who have been very badly educated.
Raising community college standards would mean failing a huge percentage of students, the NCEE warns.
Federal programs to help disadvantaged students earn college degrees “show no major effects on college enrollment or completion,” concludes “Time for Change: A New Federal Strategy to Prepare Disadvantaged Students for College, a Brookings report. The U.S. Department of Education’s TRIO programs (Upward Bound, Talent Search, Upward Bound Math-Science, Student Support Services and others) cost $1 billion per year.
The TRIO programs are designed to augment disadvantaged students’ academic preparation, give them direct experience with college work, or help them apply to colleges or seek ﬁnancial aid. . . . Half a century and billions of dollars after these federal college-preparation programs began, we are left with mostly failed programs interspersed with modest successes. Preparing disadvantaged students for college is still a major challenge, with no well-tested solutions in sight.
Summer programs, mentoring, tutoring and parent involvement activities may boost college enrollment, the policy brief found. “These may be the threads from which we can begin to weave together a new kind of intervention program.”
Forced to end affirmative action preferences based on race and ethnicity, California’s state universities “have embedded themselves deeply in disadvantaged communities, working with schools, students and parents to identify promising teenagers and get more of them into college,” reports the New York Times. Outreach efforts start in middle school.
In Colorado, College Summit helps first-generation college students prepare for the challenges they’ll face on campus, reports Colorado Public Radio. That includes the psychological barriers.
Reporter: Self-doubt is just one obstacle – there are many others low-income students are vulnerable to: feeling alienated – from peers and family, not having the safety net their more affluent peers have, culture shock — even the fear of success. Ryan Ross, who oversees student retention at the Community College of Denver, says programs targeting first generation minority students, are crucial.
Ryan Ross: Without these programs, the dismal numbers that we see would be even worse.
Reporter: But he and others estimate that only about 10 to 15 percent of students who need these bridge-to-college support services are getting them. There’s just not enough money. It costs College Summit about $200 per student each session. And it pays off. Drop out rates are high among first generation students. But 77% of College Summit graduates carry on for a second year.
In “neighborhoods where kids don’t believe college is for them,” it makes a big difference to see somebody from the neighborhood who’s now a college graduate, says Ross. ”The light turns on that, hey, I can do this college thing too.”
Only 34 percent of students from disadvantaged backgrounds enroll in college, notes TIME. Eleven percent graduate. High achievers often enroll in less-selective colleges that have lower graduation rates and provide less support to students.
In a few years, high school graduates in North Carolina will earn diplomas showing their readiness for university, community college or careers, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Each seal requires a minimum 2.6 grade point average, basically a C+.
To earn the community college readiness seal, graduates must have completed Algebra II or integrated math III.
In February, the community college board decided graduates with a minimum 2.6 GPA can skip placement tests and start in college-level courses. The system’s research showed that 20 percent of students placed in remedial courses could have succeeded at the college level. High school grades are the best predictor of college success, the study concluded.
To earn the career readiness seal, students must
take four career/technical courses, score well on ACT’s WorkKeys exam, or have an industry-recognized credential, such a car repair certificate, Microsoft suite certification, or SAS programmer credentials.
What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready? Community colleges expect little of first-year students — and get even less, concludes the National Center on Education and The Economy.
The report paints a grim picture.
High school graduates have trouble reading textbooks written at the 11th- to 12th-grade level, so instructors provide study aids to help poor readers get by. Students do little writing. When they do write, ”instructors tend to have very low expectations for grammatical accuracy, appropriate diction, clarity of expression, reasoning and the ability to present a logical argument or offer evidence in support of claims.”
Despite taking high school algebra, geometry and often advanced algebra, most students are placed in remedial math. They’re not prepared for “college math,” which amounts to “Algebra 1.25,” basic algebra with a bit of geometry and statistics. Yet what students most need to succeed in college courses is mastery of “middle school mathematics, especially arithmetic, ratio, proportion, expressions and simple equations.”
Community colleges enroll 45 percent of U.S college students: About half hope to earn a bachelor’s degree, while the rest are pursuing a vocational credential, NCEE estimates.
It’s not enough for community colleges to raise expectations, the report concludes.
We need to bear in mind that a very large fraction of high school graduates does not meet the very low expectations that community colleges currently have of them. The nation may have to learn to walk before it runs, which means that it is important, first, to enable our high school students to meet the current very low standards before we ratchet those standards up.
Common Core Standards, if implemented well, will help, eventually, the report concludes. But there’s a long way to go.
Researchers analyzed textbooks, tests, assignments, student work and grading at seven community colleges in different states. The study focused on general education and popular career programs: Accounting, Automotive Technology, Biotech/Electrical Technology, Business, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Information Technology/Computer Programming 1 and Nursing.
Only one program at one college required mastery of advanced algebra, the study found.
Increasingly, high schools are requiring students to take Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II, with hopes they’ll make it to Calculus. That should be only one option, the report recommends.
Mastery of Algebra II is widely thought to be a prerequisite for success in college and careers. Our research shows that that is not so. . . . fewer than five percent of American workers and an even smaller percentage of community college students will ever need to master the (algebra to calculus) sequence in their college or in the workplace.
Students shouldn’t take algebra till they really understand middle-school math, the report advises. If they wait till 10th grade, that’s OK. They can study statistics, data analysis, applied geometry and/or mathematical modeling to prepare for a range of careers.
States should “build alternative math pathways through the last two years of high school that are aligned with student interests and career plans,” says Harvard Education Professor Robert Schwartz. “If the Report’s assertion is correct —that only 5 percent of jobs require the mathematics embodied in the calculus pathway —then our education system should focus more on the mathematics that most young people will actually use in their civic and work life, e.g. statistics, data, probability.”
However, the path to 12th-grade calculus usually starts with eighth-grade algebra. At 12 or 13, students would have to decide whether they’re aiming for a university degree in engineering or science. Imagine a STEM-prep track for 5 percent of students — or even 20 percent — with everyone else preparing for a low-tech university degree or a community college job training program. The future engineers and physicists are likely to predominantly Asian-American, white, middle class and male.
An all-day conference on the report will be livestreamed today starting at 9 am EDT.
Pell Grants should go only to college-ready students, proposes Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation on Bloomberg View.
“A huge proportion” of the $40 billion annual federal investment in college aid is going to unprepared students, he asserts.
About two-thirds of low-income community-college students — and one-third of poor students at four-year colleges — need remedial (aka “developmental”) education, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit group. But it’s not working: Less than 10 percent of students who start in remedial education graduate from community college within three years, and just 35 percent of remedial students earn a four-year degree within six years.
Currently, Pell recipients in a “program of study” — they say they’re seeking a credential — can take remedial courses for one year before losing benefits. Petrilli suggests cutting off Pell aid for remedial students.
Ambitious, low-income high-school students would know that if they want to attend college at public expense (probably their only option), they would first need to become “college-ready.” This would provide a clear sign and incentives for them to work hard, take college-prep classes and raise their reading and math skills to the appropriate level.
Many low-income students wouldn’t go to college without Pell support for remedial courses, Petrilli concedes. That “cuts against the American tradition of open access, as well as second and third chances.”
But it’s not clear unprepared students benefit by enrolling in college remedial courses, he writes. Most drop out long before they complete a degree or certificate. (Most drop out before they take a single college-level class.) “Many would be more successful in job-training programs that don’t require college-level work (or would be better off simply gaining skills on the job).”
Eliminating remedial Pell would free up money to boost the maximum grant for needy, college-ready students.
Colleges could respond by giving credit for courses that used to be considered “remedial,” Petrilli writes.
Indeed they could. Placing poorly prepared students in credit-bearing courses, with extra help to learn basic skills, already is a trend due to the high failure rates in traditional remedial ed.
Remedial education costs millions of dollars a year with very poor results, said Stan Jones of Complete College America at the Education Writers Association conference last week at Stanford. “We pride ourselves on access, but access to what? Most never access a true college course.”
Of half a million new community college students in remedial education every year, “maybe 20 percent” will move on to college-level courses, said Carnegie’s Alicia Grunow. “We’re killing the aspirations of hundreds of thousands of students every year.”
Improving community college completion rates is difficult and expensive, concludes a new study by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia.
Community colleges are under pressure to increase completion rates and efficiency, write Clive Belfield, Peter M. Crosta and Davis Jenkins. But “many students who fail to complete are far short of the program requirements.” Some strategies will provide more degrees for the dollar.
In the community college they studied, “there would be substantial gains in completion rates and efficiency from helping students transfer with an award and from helping students with 30+ credits to graduate.” However, persuading more students to persist is
“both an expensive and inefficient reform.”
It’s important to understand the whole college process, not just inputs and outputs, write Belfield and Jenkins in an Inside Higher Ed commentary.
Improving the quality of instruction in introductory courses won’t help if students can’t access high-demand majors, such as nursing. Pouring resources into one early intervention won’t help if other programs lose resources and decline in quality as a result. And increasing retention rates won’t improve efficiency if it leads students to drop out in their second year instead of their first. In fact, improved retention requires more upper-level courses (which tend to cost more) and makes colleges look less efficient if graduation rates remain unchanged.
If community colleges can find ways to improve students’ college readiness — perhaps by collaborating with feeder high schools — they’ll improve their efficiency significantly.
New York City high schools are flooding community colleges with unprepared students, reports the Village Voice. Eighty percent need remedial reading, writing or math — especially math — when they enroll, up from 71 percent a few years ago.
City University of New York’s community colleges have doubled spending on remediation in just a decade, to $33 million a year, reports the Voice. “Faculty members have been transformed into de facto high school teachers.”
The Voice blames the push to raise graduation rates, but it’s also a sign of increased academic ambitions: More high school graduates are enrolling in community college.
Seeing very low success rates for remedial students, CUNY began experimenting in 2007 with other ways to prepare students for college-level courses.
Jahleah Santiago and Ashley Baret, who hated math in high school, are in the START program, an intensive 12-week immersion, at LaGuardia Community College. They spend 15 hours a week in math class.
Nathan Stevens . . . stands at the whiteboard, going over eight homework problems, encouraging all 14 students (average class size is 20) to verbalize their thought processes. . . . “How do you know that you’re finished with the factors now?” . . . as the class simplifies polynomials and multiplied exponents: “Put it into words, Manny. Tell me how you got that answer.”
. . . “In this program we seek to show what’s really happening in the math,” Stevens says. “Rather than teaching my students to memorize the formulas, tricks, rules, I try to reinforce the underlying ideas of what they’re looking at, with the hope that they could solve any problem they see.”
“In my high school, math was kind of under a veil,” says Santiago. “You didn’t know what was going on—you just do that and that and get the answer. Nathan will break it down and do different examples until we get it.”
Sixty to 70 percent of START students reach proficiency in one semester, compared with 20 percent who take regular remedial courses.
CUNY also offers ASAP, a full-year intensive program. It costs more per student plus less per graduate.
. . . of the original cohort who entered ASAP in 2007, 55 percent earned their associates’ degree in three years, compared with 24.7 percent of similar students in the broader CUNY campus and just 16 percent of urban community college students nationally. According to an independent study by the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Columbia, the graduation rates were so much higher that ASAP cost about 10 percent less per graduate.
If New York City’s public schools invested in ”small class sizes, mastery-based course design, one additional counselor or adviser for every 25 students,” it’s likely more students would learn math in middle and high school, instead of struggling to learn it in college, the Voice suggests. That would save money in the long run, but it would be saved by CUNY and by students, not by the K-12 system.