“College and career readiness” is the goal — but not the reality — for all high school graduates. Making the Most of 12th Grade in the Common Core Era, a policy brief by the Community College Research Center and Jobs for the Future, looks at ways to help students who aren’t on track for success.
Currently, 68 percent of community college students and 40 percent of students at open-access four-year colleges require one or more remedial classes, according to the CCRC. While 43 percent of community college students who need remediation graduate in eight years, only 28 percent of remedial students complete a credential.
Seven states and the District of Columbia — plus a number of school districts — are creating “transition” curricula to help low-scoring 12th-graders avoid remediation in college. Usually, these involve a special course, online tutorials and sometimes help with study skills and “college knowledge.” Tennessee’s SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support) pilot uses a mix of online and teacher-led learning to teach key math competencies.
The Southern Regional Ed Board has designed model literacy and math courses for high-risk students.
Early college high school and dual enrollment programs also can help high-risk students prepare for college, the policy brief concludes. Once in community college, accelerated remediation and redesigned developmental math (statistics and quantitative reasoning for non-STEM students) show promise.
“Acceleration is more motivating than remediation,” writes Joel Vargas of Jobs for the Future. “The students who will struggle most with the Common Core are likely to be the same ones who struggle now to graduate high school and enroll in college. They will be disproportionately low-income and minority youth, often English language learners, whose parents did not attend college themselves.”
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.
Most community college students enroll in remedial classes. Most remedial students never earn a credential. However, ending remediation won’t raise completion rates, argue USC Professor William G. Tierney and graduate student Julia C. Duncheon in an Inside Higher Ed commentary.
Reformers are targeting remedial education, they write.
Lawmakers in Florida have made remedial classes in math, reading and English optional for students entering community colleges in fall 2014. The placement tests to assess these skills will be optional as well.
Meantime, Tennessee and Connecticut have passed legislation making it easier for students to bypass remediation and enroll directly in courses that lead to graduation and completion of a major. And California State University has lowered its math and English placement test cutoff scores, requiring fewer students to do remedial coursework.
Unprepared students who enroll in remedial classes don’t do any better than similar students who skip remediation, according to Community College Research Center studies. But other research suggests very low-skilled students benefit from remedial education, write Tierney and Duncheon.
Before making remedial classes optional — or eliminating them — colleges should try other options, they argue.
“Accelerated” (or “mainstreaming”) programs mix low- and high-performing students in college-level classes. Students can get extra help in a support class or lab.
Some colleges create “learning communities” for low-scoring students, while others create mixed groups. At Kingsborough Community College in New York, low-scoring students in learning communities took and passed more college-level courses.
Many students — especially graduates of low-performing, high-poverty high schools — need an academic safety net, Tierney and Duncheon argue. Throwing unprepared students into college coursework will not raise completion rates.
In an essay, a journalism professor recalls a pleasant, hard-working journalism major who was “illiterate.” She’d received B’s in English before, she claimed. He struggled with whether to fail her — until she plagiarized.
How did “Kari” get so far in college without being able to read or write?
New college students will enter a structured program, reports Community College Times. Even high school students in dual enrollment programs will be encouraged to enroll tuition-free in a pathway that leads to a technical or bachelor’s degree.
The system also used research and analysis to identify and address “momentum loss points”—points where students become bogged down and too often pulled off course in their goals toward completion. In community colleges, that usually happens in a student’s first semester or first academic year, particularly in developmental education programs.
“We found too many students entering developmental education without exiting, which is why we have completely redesigned our efforts in North Carolina,” Ralls said.
The colleges tapped expert math and English faculty members across the state to re-engineer curriculum to shorten the length of courses and to develop modules to let students get the courses they need.
The state system also worked with high schools to align career and college readiness testing. Now students will know early whether they’re on track to take college-level community college classes.
Eighty technical programs in in transportation, energy, manufacturing, environment and construction now offer “stackable” credentials. A student can earn a certificate, leave college for the workforce and return later to add an advanced credential.
President Obama’s visit to Brooklyn’s P-Tech spotlighted the idea of combining high school, community college and job training, reports the New York Times. After six years at P-Tech, graduates are “first in line” for jobs at IBM, which helped create the school. Some have earned an associate degree.
Is P-Tech the wave of the future? asks the Times‘ Room for Debate blog.
Very few U.S. students attend “high-quality vocational programs tightly aligned with industry needs,” she writes.
In Switzerland, Norway and Denmark, vocational students spend half to three-quarters of their schooling in work placements.
That kind of vivid experience helps kids see into the future; they can connect the dots between what they are doing in school and how interesting their lives can be.
. . America abandoned vocational high schools for good reason, decades ago: too many were second-rate warehouses for minority and low-income kids. But now that all decent jobs require higher-order skills, there’s an opportunity to get this right. American employers want higher-order skills, and American teenagers want more interesting work. The sooner they get together, the better.
“Aiming at a moving target like the job market is dangerously short-sighted,” warns Zachary Hamed, a computer science student at Harvard.
IBM’s Stan Litow calls for P-Tech-like options for students on the Shanker Blog.
“Young people who enter the workforce with only a high school diploma are expected to earn no more than $15 per hour, and many will earn less,” he writes. Yet only 25 percent of high school graduates who enroll in community college complete a degree in six years.
IBM analyzed a community college freshman class. “Nearly 100 percent of community college freshmen who required two remedial courses—with one of them being math—failed to complete even one postsecondary semester,” Litow writes. A majority of these students dropped out of college within two months.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.