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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Remediation goes online — and free

Community colleges are creating free online courses and study guides to help students brush up on academic skills and avoid paying for no-credit remedial courses, reports Inside Higher Ed.  Although some use free Khan Academy videos or other sources, instructors also are developing their own online content.

Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Community College developed a free online course to help high school students improve their math skills and place into college-level courses, reports The Quick and the Ed.  Tri-C, as the college is known, incorporated Khan’s lectures, the open-source TeacherTube and Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, or MERLOT.

The Gates Foundation awarded $550,000 to 10 institutions trying to develop MOOC content for remedial and introductory courses. Tri-C used $50,000 in Gates funding to develop its course. Wake Tech partnered with Udacity to develop a remedial math course.

Bossier Parish Community College in Louisiana created five free online courses without outside seed money. Open Campus classes, which are open to anyone, provide remediation in reading, writing and math.  Instead of partnering with a MOOC provider, Bossier asked faculty members to design the courses, said Allison Martin, director of institutional effectiveness initiatives. “We think we have a better understanding about our own developmental education population,” she said.

The project’s leaders said they felt students at the college would react better to learning from online instructors they were likely to see on campus and in classrooms . . .

Most of Bossier’s students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, said Jim Henderson, the college’s chancellor. He said those students in particular do not react well to impersonal or “sterile” online courses.

“They’ve got to be able to see that face and know that ‘this is a person I can talk to,’ ” Henderson said.

Both the Tri-C and Bossier Parish courses are self-paced and competency-based. Students can retake modules until they reach mastery.

Tri-C uses game-style learning, said Sasha Thackaberry, the college’s director of eLearning technologies. “It actually teaches persistence and resilience.”

Most students are familiar with gaming. And college officials said nontraditional students in particular thrive on the positive feedback of progressing from level to level, rather than just receiving a single grade when they complete a course.

“The pressure isn’t on them to succeed,” said (E-learning Dean Charles) Dull. “It’s to learn.”

Students must master 80 percent of the competencies embedded in the non-credit course to earn a “digital badge” certifying mastery.

 

States expand college readiness testing

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.

North Carolina OKs readiness diplomas

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.

Structured paths lead to success

Creating structured pathways to graduation will help more community college students achieve their goals, said presenters at the American Association of Community Colleges meeting in San Francisco.

Completion by Design, a Gates Foundation initiative, is working with community colleges on mandatory student advising and  structured course sequences, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. College leaders from North Carolina, Ohio and Florida discussed their efforts.

Jobs for the Future‘s completion campaign focuses on getting students into college-level classes as quickly as possible.

Many students who end up in remedial courses don’t need to be there, but they don’t realize the importance of the tests that colleges often use as the sole placement criterion, said Gretchen Schmidt, a program director at Jobs for the Future. ”They didn’t prepare, they had kids in the hall running around, or they rushed through the test to get back to work … and as a result they ended up two levels down” in developmental courses.

Students who start in remedial courses rarely earn a degree. Recent research has shown students placed in high-level developmental courses do just as well at the college level.

North Carolina now lets high school graduates with a 2.6 grade point average or better skip community college placement tests and start at the college level.

A new Connecticut law limits state funding for remedial education to a single course.

Florida may “cut off nearly all support for stand-alone remedial education,” reports the Chronicle.

Lenore P. Rodicio, director of Miami Dade College‘s Completion by Design effort, worries that’s going too far.

“Seventy percent of our students come in needing some kind of remedial education, many of them from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and this could close the door to them,” she said.

Her college offers a one-week boot camp for students who place into remedial education to allow them to zero in on the skills they need to improve, and it’s looking at other ways to get students into credit-bearing courses faster.

In another session, California Community Colleges chancellor Brice Harris discussed the state’s new “student-success agenda,” which includes encouraging students to develop a study plan, dropping reliance on a single remedial placement test and giving new students priority for registration over perennial students who aren’t moving toward a credential.