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.

Remedial reforms face resistance

Community colleges are reforming — or abolishing — remedial education, but some think remedial reforms have gone too far, reports Katherine Mangan for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Those who are the least prepared for college stand the most to lose from policies that push students quickly into college-level classes, according to some of the educators gathered here for the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges. And those students tend, disproportionately, to be minority and poor.

Appalachian State Professor Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education, fears “collateral damage” to minority and low-income students if states enact untried models for streamlining remedial education. “If you don’t pilot innovations before mandating them statewide, the unintended consequences will come up and bite you,” he said in an AACC session on developmental ed.

Florida has made remediation optional for most high-school graduates, notes Mangan. Connecticut now limits remediation to one semester, unless it’s embedded in a college-level course. “In statehouses across the country, groups like Complete College America are urging lawmakers to replace stand-alone remedial courses with models that are offered either alongside or as part of college-credit classes.”

“For many of these students, a remedial course is their first college experience, as well as their last,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.

A Texas law, which takes effect next year, will place some remedial students in college-level courses, but “bump many of the least-prepared students from remedial education to adult basic education,” writes Mangan. 

 Karen Laljiani, associate vice president of Cedar Valley College (Dallas), said her college would be able to offer only two levels of remedial mathematics instead of four. Those at the upper end of the cutoff will be accelerated into credit courses, which has some faculty members worried about an influx of unprepared students.

The big question, though, is what will happen to students who used to place into the lowest levels of remedial math, some of whom might test at third-grade levels. Some might qualify for short-term, noncredit certificate programs that provide training for blue-collar jobs. And in some cases, remediation could be built right into the course.

The college may have to refer others to community groups that handle literacy and job training—a prospect that many community-college educators see as abandoning their open-door mission.

Jones said there are “no good answers” to what happens to the least-prepared students “when they insist on wanting an academic program.” 

AACC guide outlines how to meet lofty goals

Empowering Community Colleges To Build the Nation’s Future is an implementation guide to achieving the ambitious goals set in 2012 by the American Association of Community Colleges. By 2020, AACC wants “to reduce by half the number of students who come to college unprepared, to double the number who finish remedial courses and make it through introductory college-level courses, and to close achievement gaps across diverse populations of students,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“It is time for community colleges to reimagine and redesign their students’ experiences,” Walter G. Bumphus, the association’s president, said in a written statement. Students need “a clear pathway to college completion and success in the work force.”

Increase completion rates by 50 percent by 2020. Publicly commit to aggressive, explicit goals, the guide advises, with time frames for completion numbers and smaller gaps in the achievement of low-income and minority students relative to the overall enrollment.

Significantly improve college readiness. Establish strong connections with local public-school systems, using clear metrics and assessments to define what it means to be prepared for college. Collect baseline data, and track students’ progress.

Close the American skills gap. Understand labor-market trends and local employers’ needs, and communicate them to students. Establish clear pathways for students to build up industry-recognized credentials in high-demand fields.

Refocus the community-college mission and redefine institutional roles. Become “brokers of educational opportunities,” the guide advises, not just “direct providers of instruction.” By creating a consortium, for instance, colleges could share a curriculum, letting students draw from several campuses and delivery models.

Invest in collaborative support structures. Build alliances with other colleges and community-based or national nonprofit groups to pool resources and streamline operations. Small rural colleges, for instance, could create a purchasing cooperative. A national consortium could provide more-affordable access to tools for tracking students across sectors and states, from kindergarten to their first job.

Pursue public and private investment strategically. Keep seeking creative ways to diversify revenue streams. Meanwhile, join national groups advocating for expanded support for Pell Grants and clearer systems for transfer between two- and four-year colleges.

Introduce policies and practices that promote rigor and accountability. Adopt the Voluntary Framework for Accountability, a national tool developed by and for community colleges to broaden criteria for measuring success.

“We’re not going to achieve our mission unless we all decide we’re ready to lose our jobs over this,” said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, superintendent and president of Long Beach City College, at the AACC convention. 

Prize rewards tech solutions to boost success

The Robin Hood College Success Prize will reward innovative use of technology to help community college students complete a degree, writes Michael M. Weinstein, who leads the poverty-fighting Robin Hood Foundation. “Graduation will break the cycle of poverty.”

Nearly 70 percent of students entering community college are placed in remedial courses, where they waste time and money, Weinstein writes. Graduation rates are “appallingly low.” 

In partnership with ideas42, a behavioral ideas lab, the foundation is considering applications for the $5 million prize.  

The “prize” looks and feels like an incubator with a research component, rather than a traditional award, writes Fast Company’s Ainsley O’Connell. “Teams get staged funding, mentorship, press, and access to early adopters, and Robin Hood gets a portfolio of solutions aligned with its mission (no equity will change hands).”

Miller hits remediation, low completion rates

“Remediation just isn’t hard to do. It’s almost a killer for college completion,” said Rep. George Miller in a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing.

Complete College America President Stan Jones discussed reforms such as “co-requisite” remediation, which lets students take college-level courses while working to improve their basic skills.

Miller has introduced a bill to help community college students transfer credits to a four-year institution, the Transferring Credits for College Completion Act of 2014 (H.R. 4348).  Students “start at community colleges to avoid burdensome debt, only to find that their credits will not transfer to their chosen four-year college and they need to repeat courses,” he said. “They are forced to take classes in subject areas they have already mastered and in which they have real-world experience. We need to eliminate these barriers to completion and empower students to complete their degrees and enter the workforce.”

Remedial ed ban forces readiness push

Connecticut’s ban on no-credit remedial courses goes into effect this fall. Community colleges and school districts are working to prepare students for college-level classes, reports WNPR News. Students who are too far behind to take college-level classes, even with extra support, will go into college-readiness “transitional” programs. 

Some community colleges are offering intensive two- to five-week math and English boot camps. Others have developed online prep courses.

About two-thirds of the state’s community college students aren’t prepared for college-level math, reading or writing — or all three — when they start. Only eight percent of students who start in a remedial class complete a certificate or degree in three years.

Credit Connecticut Association for Human Services/Connecticut State Colleges and Universities

Under the new policy, many adult students will be placed in the “transitional” program, predicts Roger Senserrich, policy coordinator at the Connecticut Association for Human Services. “They haven’t been in a school setting for a long time,” he said. 

Black and Latino politicians fear minority students will be shut out of college if they’re assigned to a college readiness program, reports the New Haven Register.

Some high schools are giving students a chance to catch up in 12th grade.

In the New Haven Public Schools, about 700 seniors were informed they would need remedial support this year if they planned to attend Gateway Community College. The district is partnering with Gateway to offer those students the remedial courses at the high school level. Students who receive a C in the course will have automatic acceptance into Gateway.

Manchester Public Schools is working with Manchester Community College to offer a free 10-week program to students who need help with basic math skills, reading comprehension and essay writing. “We’re really teaching the developmental courses that MCC teaches,” said Allison Nelson, a former supervisor of Reaching Educational Achievement for College Transition, or REACT.

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.”

MOOC builds English skills

Getting Ready for College English, a massive open online course (MOOC) that helps students avoid remedial courses has attracted more than 650 students from around the world.

Emily Rosado, who teaches at Montgomery College in Maryland, developed the free course. It includes video lectures, an interactive discussion board and instructor feedback.

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.

Not ready for college: Will Common Core help?

Washington state hopes the switch to Common Core standards will cut the college remediation rate, reports the Seattle Times. A majority of community college students fail college placement tests, especially in math. The new standards claim to prepare students for college and careers.

The Washington Student Achievement Council, a new state agency, wants to test 11th graders for college readiness using the new Common Core-aligned tests. Students could use 12th grade to get up to the college level.

But some warn about linking a college readiness strategy to Common Core.

“I think waiting on the Common Core, given the politics that have developed around that now, is a pretty risk strategy for linking K-12 and higher ed,” said Penn researcher Joni Finney, one of the authors of a report that makes a long list of recommendations for improving higher-education outcomes in Washington. Finney praised the state of Texas for developing its own rigorous 11th-grade tests, and starting to beta-test the exams now.

Gene Sharratt, the executive director of WSAC, argues that Common Core is being well-received in Washington. The state is working with the Smarter Balance Consortium to develop 11th-grade tests, which are expected to be ready for beta testing in the 2015-16 school year.

Sharratt sees a slightly different risk ahead. His worry: That colleges may decide Common Core standards do not align with their requirements for college-level subjects. Even if students pass the 11th-grade tests, they still may need to take developmental classes in college.

In Maryland, community college leaders also hope Common Core standards will reduce the need for remediation, reports the Baltimore Sun.

Harford Community College faculty have been working with high school teachers to write learning objectives and lesson plans based on the new standards.

Core-aligned tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC, will replace state exams. PARCC evaluates 11th graders’ college readiness, so they have a year to catch up. The PARCC exam eventually could be used as a community college placement exam, replacing Accuplacer.