Colleges start remediation in high school

When William Penn High graduates go on to Harrisburg Area Community College‘s York (Pennsylvania) campus, 92 percent place into remedial reading and 100 percent require remedial math. “These kids are scoring in the lowest developmental levels that we have,” said Dean Marjorie A. Mattis at the American Association of Community College convention. So, this year, 12th graders are taking HACC’s developmental courses in English and math, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. The program was piloted last year for a smaller number of students.

Students take placement tests at the end of their junior year, and in the fall they report to a “HACC hallway,” painted in the college’s colors, with classroom tables instead of desks. Teachers must meet the criteria for instructors at the college, which at least one already is. Summer sessions familiarize them with the college’s textbooks, syllabi, and method of assignment review, and during the year the teachers work with college-faculty liaisons.

At the end of the pilot year, tests—offered on the York campus, so students might take them more seriously—showed significant improvement. In English 37 percent of students placed one level higher than they had initially, and in math 39 percent did.

Students who start at a higher level of remediation improve their odds of success, said Mattis.

Anne Arundel Community College, in eastern Maryland, is offering the college’s developmental-math courses in two high schools.

Starting last academic year, seniors shifted to a model called Math Firs3t, an abbreviation for “focused individualized resources to support student success with technology.” The computer-based approach involves mastery testing, in which students retake tests until they score at least 70, said Alycia Marshall, a professor and interim chair of mathematics at Anne Arundel, describing the program during a session here.

Of 134 seniors last spring, 107 passed both of the developmental courses, she said. And of those students, 34 enrolled at Anne Arundel and registered for a credit-level math course, which is often a stumbling block for students coming out of remediation. But 30 of them passed.

One of AACC’s long-term goals is to decrease by half the number of students who come to college unprepared.

Students like STEM, but don’t succeed

Nearly half of  students say they’re interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields — including health care — when they start college, but few will earn a STEM degree, according to a Complete College America report.

Forty-eight percent of recent ACT takers express interest in a STEM major, reports ACT. Forty-one percent of new four-year students and 45 percent of two-year students choose a STEM major, including health sciences, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. Four-year students favor health science, biological science and engineering, while two-year students are interested in health sciences and computer science.

Most don’t make it.

Among 4-year students, 57% of students who choose health sciences and 59% who choose computer science never complete a credential in that field.  The problem is more profound at 2-year colleges where 58% of health science and 72% of computer science students leave the program without a credential.

Those who stick with STEM complete college-level math in their first year, the report finds. Quitters don’t. They also complete few science courses.

Complete College America proposes scheduling college-level math and a majority of STEM courses in the first year to keep students on track. That will help only if students are prepared to pass college math, which many are not.

Community colleges are filled with young women who “think they’re going to be nurses” but won’t be, a researcher once told me. They don’t have the math or science foundation.

First-generation college students often focus on nursing because they’re not aware of their alternatives, writes Matt Reed, a community college dean. A colleague told him her job is to “talk students out of nursing.”

Stop pretending college is for everyone

College isn’t for everyone, writes Mike Petrilli on Slate. So let’s stop pretending it is.

All students — regardless of their academic or “soft skills” — are told that college is the only path to a decent job, he writes. But low-skilled students are set up for “almost certain failure,” Petrilli argues. They need “high-quality career and technical education, ideally the kind that combines rigorous coursework with a real-world apprenticeship, and maybe even a paycheck.”

Poorly prepared students can go to an open-access college, but few succeed, he writes. Less than 10 percent of community college students who start in remedial courses will complete a two-year degree within three years, estimates Complete College America. Most will quit before taking a college-level course.

College access advocates look at those numbers and want to double down on reform, seeking to improve the quality of remedial education, or to skip it entirely, encouraging unprepared students to enroll directly in credit-bearing courses, or to offer heavy doses of student support. All are worth trying for students at the margins. But few people are willing to admit that perhaps college just isn’t a good bet for people with seventh-grade reading and math skills at the end of high school.

Unfortunately, our federal education policy encourages schools and students to ignore the long odds of college success. Federal Pell Grants, for instance, can be used for remedial education; institutions are more than happy to take the money, even if they are terrible at remediating students’ deficits, which is why I’ve proposed making remedial education ineligible for Pell financing. On the other hand, Pell can only be used for vocational education that takes place through an accredited college or university; job-based training, and most apprenticeships, do not qualify. That should change.

By pretending that low-skilled students “have a real shot at earning a college degree,” we mislead them, Petrilli argues. They’re less likely to pursue a path that might lead to success.

Petrilli’s argument represents the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” charges RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. “Vocational ed tracks are a legacy of ability tracking and the comprehensive high school model, both of which emerged from the bigoted assumption that poor and minority kids (especially those from immigrant households) were incapable of mastering academic subjects.” 

“College-preparatory learning is critical for success in both white- and blue-collar professions,” he argues. Young people who are not “college material” won’t be “blue-collar material” either.

High-paying blue-collar jobs require high levels of reading, math and science literacy, Biddle writes. All require postsecondary training, often at a community college.

Welders, for example, need strong trigonometry and geography skills in order to properly fabricate and assemble products. . . . Machine tool-and-die work involves understanding computer programming languages such as C . . . Even elevator installers-repairmen, along with electrical and electronics installers, need strong science skills in order because their work combines electrical, structural and mechanical engineering.

I agree with Petrilli that young people get very bad advice. By ninth grade, they should be told the odds — based on high school grades — of completing a bachelor’s degree, vocational associate degree or a vocational certificate. They should know that a dental hygienist or a welder may earn more than a four-year graduate in sociology, theater arts or just-about anything studies.

They need to know early, so they have time to develop the reading, writing and — especially — math skills they’ll need to pursue a technical or academic education.

Students who master middle-school math can study statistics, data analysis, applied geometry and/or mathematical modeling to prepare for a range of careers, concludes What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready? by the National Center on Education and The Economy. “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.”

Boot camp speeds path to college math

A math boot camp at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) in Pennsylvania is giving students a chance to move quickly to college-level math, reports Community College Daily.

Many students are “spinning their wheels” in developmental math, said Jason Rosenberry, associate professor of mathematics at HACC. It takes time and money to work their way through four levels of remedial math.

In fall 2012, and again in summer 2013, HACC offered a free weeklong boot camp to students whose ACCUPLACER scores were within five points of the cut score for testing into pre-algebra or beginning algebra. The program combined in-person instruction and online tutoring via Pearson Education’s MyFoundationsLab.

Instruction took place for four afternoons. Students completed homework online. On the fifth day, students retook the ACCUPLACER test, free of charge.

Results were promising. About 80 percent of students in both boot camps advanced one or two levels of developmental math. Arithmetic scores on the ACCUPLACER jumped 16 points and elementary algebra scores increased 5 points in fall 2012 and 8 points in summer 2013.

Online learning gave students “instantaneous, immediate feedback,” Rosenberry said.

In the future, HACC may open the boot camp to all interested students, tinker with the schedule and charge students a small fee.

Placement prep should be the norm

If community colleges are going to use placement tests, they should tell students their scores matter and give everyone a practice test, write Susan Bickerstaff and Maggie Fay, in USA Today.

Last fall, millions of incoming community college students were relegated to non-credit remedial courses. Many will remain in remediation for as long as two years, spending tuition on courses that don’t count towards a degree. Large numbers will drop out before taking a real college class. Only about a quarter will go on to earn any kind of degree.

Many need remediation, but some could do well in college-level courses, write Bickerstaff and Fay,  research associates at Columbia University’s Community College Research Center. A little test prep could make all the difference.

But that’s not happening. Community college students often find out about the tests only on the day they enroll. Community college registration offices tend to downplay the tests’ importance, reassuring students that their purpose is simply to gauge “where you are.” That hardly encourages students to prepare.

Even when colleges offer test prep materials, many students don’t use the help, concludes a new CCRC survey of math students at four community colleges. Some lack confidence in their math skills and want to take easy classes. Many students “have little faith they can meet educational challenges through extra study,” the researchers write.

Community colleges should consider more than test scores in deciding on placement, they advise. In addition, community colleges should make test prep the norm. “At the very least, community colleges should mandate that all entering students take a practice test, inform students of the implications of a low score and provide high-quality review materials before the test.”

ASAP: More guidance, more degrees

Easy come, easy go is the unofficial motto of community colleges. Anyone can enroll. Few will graduate. Daquan McGee escaped the community college trap by enrolling in City University of New York’s structured, guided, get-it-done ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs), writes Ann Hurlbert in The Atlantic.

McGee enrolled at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in the spring of 2010. At 19, he’d served two years in prison for attempted robbery. He failed placement tests in writing and math, but passed an intensive remedial writing course over the summer, while working full-time at a Top Tomato Super Store. He opted for ASAP in the fall.

McGee would have to enroll full-time . . . Every other week, he would be required to meet with his adviser, who would help arrange his schedule and track his progress. In addition to his full course load, McGee would have to complete his remaining remedial class, in math, immediately. If he slipped up, his adviser would hear about it from his instructor—and mandatory tutoring sessions would follow. If he failed, he would have to retake the class right away. Also on McGee’s schedule was a non-optional, noncredit weekly College Success Seminar, featuring time-management strategies, tips on study habits and goal setting, exercises in effective communication, and counsel on other life skills. The instructor would be taking attendance. If McGee complied with all that was asked of him, he would be eligible for . . . a free, unlimited MetroCard good for the following month. More important, as long as he stayed on track, the portion of his tuition not already covered by financial aid would be waived.

McGee graduated with an associate’s degree in multimedia studies in two and a half years. (I’d love to know if he’s been able to get a better job. Is he on a career path?)

In urban community colleges, the national three-year graduation rate is 16 percent, Hurlbert writes. “Nationwide, barely more than a third of community-college enrollees emerge with a certificate or degree within six years.”

ASAP, launched in 2007, aims to get half its students to a degree in three years. It appears to be exceeding that goal, according to preliminary results of a three-year study that randomly assigned students to either ASAP or the regular community-college track. “A third of the students who enrolled in ASAP in the spring of 2010 finished in two and a half years (compared with 18 percent of the control group),” Hurlbert writes.

 ASAP offers lots of guidance, a dose of goading, and a variety of well-timed incentives to its participants (average age at admission: 21), who must sign on to the goal of graduating within three years. The program is intended primarily for low-income students with moderate remedial needs, and it accepts applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. . . . The implicit philosophy behind the program is simple: students, especially the least prepared ones, don’t just need to learn math or science; they need to learn how to navigate academic and institutional challenges more broadly, and how to plot a course—daily, weekly, monthly—toward long-term success.

The City University of New York spends an average of $9,800 a year for a community college student; ASAP adds another $3,900 per student. That’s a lot — until you calculate the price per graduate. Then, ASAP is a bargain.

Statway leads to success

Carnegie’s alternatives to remedial math — Statway and Quantway – are raising success rates at more colleges, according to the Community College Pathways: 2012-2013 Descriptive Report.

More than 60 percent of community college students are required to take at least one remedial math course:  80 percent of students who place into developmental math do not pass college-level math within three years.

According to the report:

  • 52 percent of the 853 Statway community college students successfully completed the year-long pathway (received a grad of C or better in the final term). This is consistent with the results of 49 percent in Year 1 (2011-2012).
  • Statway expanded to two additional colleges within the California State University (CSU) system adding a total of 204 students.
  • 75 percent of CSU Statway students successfully completed the pathway, comparable with 74 percent in Year 1.
  • The number of students enrolled in Quantway 1 tripled from Year 1 for a total of 1,402 enrolled.
  • Quantway 2, the second semester of the pathway, was launched for the first time at three community colleges with 49 students.
  • 52 percent of students successfully completed Quantway 1, demonstrating continued positive outcomes with 56 percent in Year 1.
  • In its first semester, 68 percent of students successfully completed Quantway 2.

Enrollment in the two pathways rose significantly in the second year of the project.

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.”

Florida’s remedial ed revolution

A remedial education revolution will hit Florida next fall, reports the Tampa Tribune. Under a new law, state colleges and universities won’t be able to require most students to take placement tests or non-credit remedial classes. “We’re looking at new strategies,” said Robert Hervey, program manager for developmental math at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus. “It’s caused us to do a complete overhaul.”

“Remediation in Florida was not an entrance ramp to success, it was an exit ramp to failure,” said state Sen. Joe Negron, a Republican from Stuart who pushed the legislation. “If you think about it, it makes sense; you’re asking these students to come to class, study, work hard for a semester, and the reward for that is to say, ‘Congratulations, you now have the opportunity to take a real college course.’”

. . . “It was just a completely broken system,” Negron said.

By fall 2014, the state’s public high school graduates and members of the armed services will be able to start in college-level courses, regardless of their preparation.

At St. Petersburg College and HCC, administrators are turning semester-long remedial classes into “modularized, accelerated or compressed” sessions, reports the Tribune. For example, “someone struggling with fractions or factoring polynomial equations could take shorter modules focusing exclusively on individual subjects.” In some cases, students in a college-level English class may be offered a “co-requisite” tutorial focused on basic skills.

SPC Mathematics Dean Jimmy Chang said advisers will offer enrollees a sample of the types of questions they would be expected to handle in a for-credit course. Then, on the first day of class, students will be encouraged to take an initial assessment.

“Hopefully, that will give students two sets of information for them to fully determine whether or not they are ready for that class,” Chang said. “If they think that they are, great. If they decide, ‘Wait, I really need to take a step back,’ we will work with them at the departmental level to make sure they are in the right place.”

At HCC, fewer students are enrolling in developmental math and more are signing up for college algebra.

Getting past algebra

Algebra scares many community college students, writes Sophie Quinton in National Journal. Two-thirds place into remedial math. Fewer than one in four who start below the college level earn a certificate or degree in eight years.

Arica Hawley used to dread math class. She would look at problems and not even know where to begin. When Hawley, 37, went back to Tacoma (Wash.) Community College last fall to finish her associate’s degree, she placed into a pre-algebra course—eighth-grade-level material.

Students who test two or three levels below Algebra II, which is considered college math, have to pass several remedial courses before they can start earning college credit. ”It eats up time and financial aid, especially when we have students who have to retake those courses three, four, and five times,” says John Kellermeier, a TCC math instructor.

Instead of remedial math, Hawley took Statway, a college-level statistics course for students who haven’t mastered high school math. She earned a college math credit.

The Carnegie Foundation developed two one-year courses — Statway and a quantitative-reasoning course called Quantway — to get students out of the remedial rut. Statway includes high school algebra and college-level statistics. Quantway starts with developmental math, but moves to college-level quantitative reasoning in the second semester.

Both courses allow faculty to teach algebra relevant to the college-level material, and to public debates and questions students will face in the workforce. In Statway, students learn to read graphs, determine probability, and detect bias in data. They brainstorm ways to prove or disprove theories, like the assertion by astrologers that birth dates determine personality traits.

Students are grouped into threes or fours and may stay in those groups throughout the course. The groups work through the material together every day, and are responsible for keeping each other up to speed.

. . . The courses also include exercises that address math anxiety. Many students believe they’re just not ‘math people.’ “If we don’t change how they see themselves, they’re going to realize a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Bernadine Chuck Fong, the director of Carnegie’s developmental math initiative.

Statway was launched in the fall of 2011 at 19 community colleges and two state universities. Fifty-one percent of students earned a college credit within a year, compared to 5.9 percent of community college students who start in remedial math.

Thirty campuses in 11 states now are implementing Statway and 22 are using Quantway.

Students do better when they believe they can succeed, feel that they belong in the classroom, and feel connected to their peers and teacher, says Fong.