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.

Alignment can break the remedial cycle

A majority of community college freshmen and a third of four-year students must take at least one remedial class. Aligning high school teaching with college demands can slash the need for remediation, writes Brad Phillips, president of the Institute for Evidence-Based Change, in GOOD.

In San Diego, 95 percent of  West Hills High graduates — many with A’s and B’s in English courses — flunked the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District placement test. Yet, when allowed to start in college-level classes, 86 percent passed, staying on course to a degree.

The English Curriculum Alignment Project teamed college faculty with high school teachers to evaluate student performance. San Diego educators learned that taking advanced English courses through 12th grade wasn’t preventing students from needing remediation. Finally, they had a “eureka” moment.

High school teachers taught mostly literature, focusing on characters and story lines in many classic works of fiction. Meanwhile, English faculty in the community college were teaching students about argumentation and writing clearly to inform, persuade, and describe—key skills needed to succeed at work, think critically and contribute to their community.

. . . Together, San Diego teachers developed standards-based high school lesson plans that helped students organize content and write clearly with deep understanding of genre, audience, purpose, and argument. The thoughtful blend of literary and rhetorical values in the English classroom and an emphasis on rigorous writing, reading and critical thinking skills put students on a track for success in college and career.

Only 24 percent of California students placed in the lowest level of English remedial courses make it to college-level work, Phillips writes.


Duncan: Raise standards, cut remediation

Since I couldn’t make the blogger breakfast last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan invited me to drop by on Friday when I was in the area.

I asked Duncan about charges he’s hyping a 82 percent failure rate by next year — U.S. schools missing Adequate Yearly Progress — in order to argue for abandoning No Child Left Behind’s goal of universal proficiency by 2014. “Have you ever seen me hype anything?” he said. Many states set modest goals in the early years with very high goals in the last few years. They’re hitting the curve of the hockey stick, he said.

If the 2014 goal is replaced by “college- and career-ready” by 2020, what’s to prevent another round of wishful thinking meets reality?

“My dream and my hope is that it’s an honest goal,” Duncan said.

NCLB let many states “dummy down standards,” he said. He has great faith that Common Core Standards will raise the bar to a high and consistent level, and praised governors for adopting the new standards even though their states’ test scores are bound to fall significantly. “They’re going to see proficiency rates fall from 80 percent to 40 percent” in some states, Duncan predicted. That will be politically painful. But fewer students will go through school thinking they’re doing fine and end up in remedial reading, writing and math in college. “I want to get community colleges out of the remediation business,” he said.

The feds are funding new tests to go with the new standards but are staying out of curriculum development, Duncan said. Common Core‘s curriculum maps, the proposed common curriculum endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers, Core Knowledge and others and whatever else is developed will compete in the marketplace, he said.

I asked about his endorsement of Harvard’s Pathways to Prosperity report, which call for creating alternative career pathways to motivate students instead of “college for all.” Duncan admitted the new budget cuts funding for career tech ed, but said there’s a need to weed out low-quality programs and fund only the programs that really prepare students for jobs and increase college-going rates. “College for all” includes all forms of postsecondary education, including apprenticeships and community college certificate programs, he said, not just bachelor’s degrees. (But that’s not what people hear.)

“College and career ready are the same skills,” he said. In schools with high expectations, low-income minority students can excel and go on to college. Schools that lower expectations for fear of increasing the drop-out rate leave students bored, disengaged and even more likely to drop out.

I asked: Does the would-be welder need trigonometry? “They all need algebra,” said Duncan.

Many teachers complain that it’s impossible to teach classes with a wide range of skills and knowledge — some algebra students are ready to learn algebra and others don’t know arithmetic — and language abilities and behavioral issues and disabilities. “What would you say to teachers who say they’re overwhelmed by students’ very different learning needs?” I asked.

He said the high-scoring countries provide extra help for struggling students after school — before they get years behind — and social services for children with family problems. He didn’t say: It’s time to stop pushing every child in the same class.

We talked briefly about the narrowing of the curriculum to what’s tested. Despite the big STEM push, Duncan also wants schools to teach reading, history, science, financial literacy, dance, drama, etc. Educate the whole child and the test scores will follow, he said.

That’s where time ran out. I left thinking that Duncan is an optimist. Perhaps he needs to be. I am more cynical. Measure reading and math performance, maybe science, and don’t expect schools to spend time on dance, drama or even history. Reward higher graduation rates and expect “credit recovery” and other scams to push marginal students to a diploma. (Stop measuring student performance — and stop looking at subgroup scores — and expect schools to give up on children who lack pushy parents.) Provide college aid to D and F students and open-admissions colleges will be overwhelmed with remedial students.

Remedial students flood CUNY

Three-quarters of first-year students at New York City’s community colleges need remediation in reading, writing or math, reports the New York Times. In the past five years, the number of “triple low remedial” students who are far behind in all three subjects has doubled. Spending on remediation has doubled in 10 years.

“It takes a lot of our time and energy and money to figure out what to do with all of these students who need remediation,” said Alexandra W. Logue, the university’s executive vice chancellor and provost. That means less attention is paid to providing a college education to prepared students.

At LaGuardia Community College in Queens, where 40 percent of the math classes are remedial, faculty members like Jerry G. Ianni have been increasingly dividing their time between teaching those classes and teaching courses for academic credit, prompting worries that professors are becoming de facto high school teachers.

“Most students have serious challenges remembering the basic rules of arithmetic,” Dr. Ianni said of his remedial math class. “The course is really a refresher, but they aren’t ready for a refresher. They need to learn how to learn.”

About 65 percent of community college students nationwide need remediation, according to Thomas R. Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College at Columbia University. Math is the biggest roadblock.

Many students are surprised to be placed in remedial classes.

As a freshman at LaGuardia, Angel Payero, 18, took the necessary assessment tests in August and discovered that he was deficient in reading, writing and math.

“Throughout high school, I was a good math student, and to find out that it was my lowest grade of all three was really surprising,” said Mr. Payero, who graduated from the High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry.

LaGuardia is seeing success with an “immersion” program. Students take only remedial classes for one semester, spending up to 25 hours a week in the classroom, for a flat fee of $75.  More than 70 percent of immersion students qualify for college-level classes, compared to 50 percent of traditional remedial students.

Only 23 percent of New York City high school graduates are prepared for college classes in reading and math, according to the state Regents tests.

New York City’s public schools are trying to reduce the need for remediation by aligning curricula with CUNY.  The city will track how each high school’s graduates do in college; starting in 2012, college readiness measures will be included in high school progress reports.


Fixing higher ed

The Washington Post’s Daniel de Vise looks at eight ways to improve our higher education system

1. Measure student learning
2. End merit aid
3. Three-year degrees
4. Core curriculum
5.More homework
6. Encourage completion
7. Cap athletic subsidies
8.Rethink remediation

Here’s the online discussion and go to College, Inc. for more ideas from education leaders and entrepreneurs.

Close the readiness gap

Working together, high school and college instructors can improve student success rates, writes Jordan E. Horowitz of the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success, or Cal-PASS, in Education Week.

First, postsecondary institutions must be able to clearly state and explain what is expected of entering students. It is not enough, for example, to require a certain number of years of math, English, and other subjects; nor is it enough to require a passing grade in Algebra II. We must identify the specific knowledge students need to succeed in college-level math.

Second, we must develop longitudinal student-data systems that allow us to track students from year to year, school to school, and educational segment to segment.

Community college instructors should work with teachers from feeder high schools to analyze remediation and course failure rates, align curricula and tests and develop solutions, Horowitz writes.

In California, Cal-PASS lets all 112 community colleges and nearly all public universities share transcript and test data with more than two-thirds of K–12 districts.

The database currently holds more than 415 million records representing approximately 25 million students, with the ability to track back as far as 15 years. Without divulging student identities, Cal-PASS enables practitioners to track cohorts’ progress from kindergarten through middle school and on to college.

Teachers and college faculty from the same disciplines meet monthly in professional learning councils to diagnose strengths and weaknesses and align school and college curricula.

For example, one English council was disturbed by transition data indicating extremely high rates of their high school students were being placed into remedial postsecondary English courses that were below college level. Upon comparing curricula, faculty across the different levels of education noted that high school English is literature-based, while postsecondary English focuses on rhetoric and demands greater expository reading and writing skills. Faculty members worked across the secondary and postsecondary segments of education to infuse more nonfiction reading and writing into the high school curriculum. Standardized-test scores improved, school adequate yearly progress improved, and upon placement in college-level English when they matriculated to the local postsecondary institutions, these students passed with a C or better at a higher rate than their non-program peers.

Postsecondary institutions must “define what it means to be college-ready in a way that is actionable,” Horowitz writes.