Core-aligned exams will qualify grads for college courses

Washington state’s new Common Core tests will be used to decide whether students can start in college-level classes at community colleges and state universities, reports the Seattle Times.

Students who score at the top two levels –considered “college ready” — won’t need to take placement exams.

Students who just miss qualifying on the “Smarter Balanced” math test can qualify for college-level math by earning a B or higher in a pilot course called “Bridge to College Mathematics.”

Use grades to improve remedial placement

High school grades are more accurate than placement tests in predicting who needs remedial courses, concludes a working paper by Judith Scott-Clayton, Peter M. Crosta and Clive Belfield, Community College Research Center researchers.

. . .  roughly one in four test-takers in math and one in three test-takers in English are severely mis-assigned under current test-based policies, with mis-assignments to remediation much more common than mis-assignments to college-level coursework. Using high school transcript information — either instead of or in addition to test scores — could significantly reduce the prevalence of assignment errors.

If colleges took account of students’ high school performance, they could “remediate substantially fewer students without lowering success rates in college-level courses,” researchers believe. Currently, remedial coursework costs $7 billion a year.

What works for remedial students?

What works for remedial students? The Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR) will assess new approaches to remedial assessment, placement and instruction.

The Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University, in collaboration with MDRC and scholars at Stanford, University of California at Davis and Vanderbilt, has been awarded a five-year $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to create the center.

Three major studies are planned:

A national study to survey the characteristics of developmental students, the dominant remedial practices across two- and four-year colleges, and the nature and extent of reforms that have been recently implemented or are in process.

A randomized control trial in partnership with the State University of New York’s community college system to test the effectiveness of a “data analytics” assessment and placement system that relies on more information, including high school records, than the traditional method of placing students into remedial education.

A randomized control trial at several Texas community colleges comparing the New Mathways Project—a program developed by the Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin to engage students in more active learning of math curricula that are tailored to specific academic pathways—with the traditional remedial and introductory college math sequence.

In addition, CAPR will investigate innovative approaches to remediation, including California’s Early Start.

CCRC’s Thomas Bailey and MDRC’s Lashawn Richburg-Hayes will lead the new center.

States don’t track students college readiness and progress through remediation with any consistency, concludes an Education Commission for the State report, Cure for Remedial Reporting ChaosA companion report recommends creating a national “framework” for measuring and reporting on remediation.

Remedial reforms have tradeoffs

The Virginia Community College System’s remedial math reforms have placed more students in college-level math courses, raising gatekeeper math completion rates for incoming students, reports a Community College Research Center study. However, pass rates “declined modestly” for students in entry-level math courses.

“Changes to how academic supports are deployed and changes to teaching and learning strategies used in college math courses could improve conditional pass rates over time,” writes Olga Rodriguez.

In addition to introducing a new math placement test, the system now requires lower math competencies for liberal arts majors than for STEM majors.

Remedial courses face new test

 Remedial college courses are facing a new test in Florida, reports the Wall Street Journal. Under a new state law, students can decide whether to start in developmental ed or in for-credit, college-level courses. Most are skipping remediation.

More than half of community-college students in the U.S. take at least one remedial class. Success rates are very low. “States are trying alternatives, from adding basic tutorials to college-level classes to weighing high-school grades in addition to test scores,” reports the Journal. Florida has gone the farthest by making placement tests and remedial classes optional for recent state high school graduates and active-duty members of the military.

In a white-walled classroom here at Miami Dade College, students on a recent afternoon pondered the absolute value of 19. After a silence, instructor Carlos Rodriguez offered a hint: “How far is it from 0?”

Such algebra class work, which is typically done at the high-school level, is front and center at this community college, where about 12,000 students enrolled in remedial classes last spring. But enrollment in catch-up classes has fallen about 24% since the legislation took effect this year.

The failure rate will soar, predicts Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón. “You’re not able to test students [who opt out of the remedial program] and know where they are,” said Padrón. “When you don’t have the tools to guide them, it’s very, very difficult.”

Brooke Bovee, who teaches college-level English composition and literature, says just six of her 26 students came in prepared for the class, noting that for four of her students, this will be their third try. For an additional six students, this is their second attempt.

Now, with the new state law, she also has at least one student who tested into a remedial class but chose the higher-level class instead.

“A lot of discussion among English faculty is how to keep standards high,” said Ms. Bovee, who acknowledges the need for changes to the system. “Students ask me what a paragraph is now. What’s next? Maybe, what’s a sentence?”

Miami Dade is adding counselors, but instructors say it won’t be enough.

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.”

Require remediation — after a retest

“Florida colleges will let students opt out of remedial coursework, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

That’s a bad idea,writes Amber Bradley in a letter to the editor. “Some students who are genuinely not ready for college level coursework will opt to take the college level class and not succeed.” Instead, students should be allowed to retake the placement exam, she proposes.

Also, it is important for counselors to reiterate the importance of the placement exam . . . . Another suggestion is to offer these remedial classes the summer before the start of the student’s first semester so that once school commences, the student is caught up to the proper level class.

Bradley is a graduate student in education at University of Southern California.

Late enrollment leads to failure

Late enrollment sets students up to fail, writes an anonymous community college administrator in Inside Higher Ed.

In the name of access, many community colleges set no deadlines to enroll or apply for financial aid, Anonymous writes. Students can self-select into the classes they want, even if they’ve failed the placement test. They can start a week late, missing two or three classes.

We worry over our rising student loan default numbers. We struggle to improve our retention and completion rates and yet we have created a system that makes it OK for college to be a last-minute decision, where our most at-risk students start out behind and many never catch up. We force our professors to take students who will be seriously behind on their first day in class, and who will either sidetrack the instructor or fall more behind. Instructors, especially in our core classes, must balance trying to meet the course objectives while also providing in-class remediation for underprepared students.

Late enrollment often leads to academic failure, the administrator writes. Dropouts often have student loans that they won’t be able to pay.

Anonymous proposes:

Application and enrollment deadlines that ensure a student has enough time to get financial aid and payment plans in place before the semester begins. We need to have deadlines in place so a student knows that being successful requires planning and some time getting his or her life organized to be a student. A student who misses the deadline for enrollment isn’t told “no,” they are told “next semester.”

Mandatory orientation for all new students. We have a moral obligation to ensure that students have been informed of the institutions’ expectations, policies and practices before students try to begin navigating our increasingly large bureaucracies.

Required placement and advising prior to the first semester of enrollment. Students should start knowing what they’ll need to graduate, what classes they are truly ready for and what their academic plan will be.

Some community colleges have ended late enrollment to raise student success rates. In a 2002 study, 80 percent of on-time students made it to the next semester, compared to 35 percent of late registrants.

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.

Robo-reader replaces human teachers

Automated Teaching Machine, which foresees “the end of human teachers,” was created by two California community college professors. Adam Bessie, who teaches English at Diablo Valley College, was the writer;  Arthur King, who teaches studio and computer arts, was the illustrator.

It was inspired by the introduction of an automated reading machine to score English-placement assessments at the college, Bessie told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Previously, English-department faculty members had created and reviewed the assessments manually, a collective exercise that gave them the opportunity to discuss standards, he said.

“We were told that the robo-reader could do the same job as us for cheaper, which seemed an absurd notion,” Mr. Bessie said. “I had, before this, never heard of a robo-reader and thought that I had the one job that couldn’t be automated: that written human communication was one area that technology could augment, but not replace.”

Here’s the first part of the graphic, which was published on Truthout.

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