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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
The top community college professor of the year is Robert Chaney, a professor of mathematics at Sinclair Community College in Dayton. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching presented awards to four professors at different levels of higher education.
Chaney’s students use math to “study a personal hobby, program a robot or start a mock company,” reports Inside Higher Ed. “I want them to look at real-world problems and be able to see math as something that is helpful and useful,” said Chaney, who teaches algebra and trigonometry courses, as well as business statistics and math for engineering students.
Chaney uses a blend of traditional teaching, real-world examples and activities. The goal is to help students understand the math they’ll need for future courses and apply math skills to solve problems.
In one class, students use algebraic functions to program a calculator-controlled robot called SAM (which stands for “science and math”).
“They see algebra working right before them and it puts meaning and definition behind the algebra,” Chaney said.
Through his work with Math Machines, a nonprofit he started with a colleague, Chaney is helping educators at high schools and community colleges create control devices, like SAM, and build lesson plans for science, math and technology courses.
Also honored for teaching were: Gintaras Duda (for master’s universities and colleges), an associate professor of physics at Creighton University, in Omaha; Steven Pollock (for doctoral and research universities), a professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Ann Williams (for baccalaureate institutions), a professor of French at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Redesigning remedial math can improve community college completion rates, concludes Changing Equations. Pamela Burdman wrote the report for LearningWorks, an Oakland-based nonprofit. Some community colleges are stressing statistics and quantitative reasoning over intermediate algebra for non-STEM students.
Early results – including a dramatic jump from 6 to 51 percent in the proportion of students completing college-level math in their first year of college — are lending credence to the theory that the alternative pathways are better tailored to academic majors that don’t require intermediate algebra. About a quarter of California’s 112 community colleges, as well as numerous colleges in at least a dozen other states, have begun to develop these alternatives for non-STEM (science, technology, engineer, and math) students.
Intermediate algebra is a major barrier to graduation, the report finds. Most entering community college students place into remedial math. Eighty percent fail to complete the sequence and pass college-level math.
Half of Blacks and Latinos start community college with very weak math skills. Only 6 percent of students who place into the lowest remedial math level will pass a college-level math course within three years.
“We need to think hard about how remedial math sequences can best serve students who don’t want to become scientists or engineers,” says Linda Collins, executive director of LearningWorks.
California is accelerating remediation in math and English, but transfer policies are getting the way, reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed.
A faculty-led group called the California Acceleration Project has helped 42 of the state’s community colleges offer redesigned, faster versions of remedial math and English tracks. But the group’s co-founders said they would be able to make much more progress if the University of California changed its transfer credit requirements.
Myra Snell, a math professor at Los Medanos College, created Path2Stats to move remedial students quickly to college-level statistics. Her students “were more than four times as likely to complete college-level math as their peers in traditional remedial sequences,” writes Fain.
Currently 21 community colleges offer similar math courses.
But UC requires transfers to take intermediate algebra. Accelerated math doesn’t include enough algebra, according to UC.
Carnegie’s new approach to remedial math is going online. NovoEd and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching will offer a free online short course called Numbers for Life. It includes four lessons from Carnegie’s Quantway®.
These lessons will develop your understanding of common numbers often found in the news, on advertisements, and online. You will see how numbers play important roles in arguments you hear about daily like issues such as gun control, smoking, pollution, and heart attacks. And by the end of this course, you’ll be able to use numbers to communicate your ideas.
. . . The goal of the Quantway® is to help you learn things that you can actually use in life–not so you can memorize it for a test and then forget it. In fact, by the end of this course, you’ll be able to create a final project that uses numbers to prove a point to anyone who sees it.
Seventy percent of students placed in a traditional remedial math course never complete the course. Community college students taking Quantway® tripled the success rate in half the time, according to Carnegie.
Tennessee community colleges are running math labs in local high schools to prepare students for college math, reports Inside Higher Ed. Encouraged by early results, Gov. Bill Haslam came up with money to expand the experiment.
Math labs are designed for high school seniors who appear likely to place into remedial courses in college.
Pass rates have been high. For example, 83 percent of a group of 200 students in the remedial, dual-enrollment group at Chattanooga State Community College completed all of the college’s required math “competencies” during their senior year of high school.
Even better, 25 percent of those students completed a credit-bearing, college-level math course while still in high school (remedial math is typically noncredit). These were also students who scored a 19 or below on the ACT Mathematics Test as high school juniors, meaning they had deficiencies in the subject.
“They were completely done with math before they even started” college, said Kimberly G. McCormick, interim associate vice president for academic affairs at Chattanooga State.
Three years ago, Chattanooga State helped set up a remedial math lab at a nearby high school. Teacher Deborah Weiss used Pearson’s MyMathLab courseware, which lets students work at their own speed.
The class was “wildly successful,” McCormick said. The state funded a larger pilot at high schools near Northeast State, Cleveland State and Jackson State Community Colleges as well as Chattanooga State.
This year, all 13 of the state’s community colleges are running math labs at 1134high schools throughout Tennessee.
Colorado Gear Up‘s Early Remediation Project starts even earlier — in eighth grade. This year, some 1,300 students in grades 8, 9 and 10 are enrolled in classes mirroring the remedial math and English sequences taught on Colorado campuses. Once students pass the courses, as verified by Adams State University, they can enroll in college-level courses. Some start earning college credits in 10th grade.