Community colleges are not moving swiftly enough to revolutionize the way they assess incoming students’ skills and support them in their classwork, a new report argues.
“Expectations Meet Reality: The Underprepared Student and Community Colleges,” released Tuesday by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin, highlights the work of colleges in a few states that are on the leading edge of revamping their remediation practices, with an approach known as “corequisite remediation.” But the report includes big doses of frustration, too, with the slow pace of change in most community colleges.
“Innovative work is happening with assessment, placement, and the delivery of developmental coursework—but at present these new approaches affect only small numbers of students nationwide,” the Center said in a statement accompanying the report.
The report is based on a survey of 70,000 community college students in 150 colleges and 4,500 faculty members in 56 institutions. Of the students, 86 percent said they believed they were ready for college work, but 67 percent test into remedial courses, the study said. Four in 10 of those students were A students in high school, it said. The hefty numbers of students in developmental courses has caused widespread concern, since most never make it to an associate degree.
A Call to Reinvent Remedial Practices
Even as the higher education field focuses a critical eye on placement tests, 87 percent of students are still being required to take them, the report said. And even when faculty members see that students are underprepared for their classes, only 6 percent recommend a switch.
Some colleges are trying new approaches to the standard routine of placement testing and remedial courses. One of those approaches, “corequisite remediation,” replaces the usual sequence of development course, then credit-bearing course, with a paired approach: Students take them simultaneously, using the remedial class to support work in the higher-level course.
Students taking advantage of that model report higher engagement marks in the Center’s surveys, according to the report. Butler Community College in Kansas, whose work is highlighted in the report, is expanding its corequisite remediation model this school year after pilot programs showed that students who took paired courses in English performed better than peers who didn’t.
Another approach to revamping college placement and remedial practice is considering high school transcript information, or ACT or SAT scores, before making students take placement tests. Davidson Community College in North Carolina found that when it used this approach, students who placed into introductory courses based on their transcripts or SAT or ACT scores had better rates of course completion than did their peers who enrolled in courses based on placement tests, according to the new report.
New Remediation Practices Produce Promising Results
Some colleges are also combining several layers of developmental coursework into one, to streamline the process of getting students into credit-bearing classes. Others, such as Washington State Community College in Ohio, are helping students brush up their skills before taking placement tests, or forming partnerships with high schools to offer bridge courses that bolster students’ skills between 12th grade and college, as Lee College and Goose Creek school district did, in Texas.
The Center for Community College Student Engagement report is the second in recent months to highlight the practice of corequisite remediation. Last month, Complete College America issued a report, “Spanning the Divide,” that found that five states using the approach are seeing much higher rates of completion of introductory math and English courses as students receive simultaneous support in those subjects.
In Georgia, one of the states using corequisite remediation, only 21 percent of students who began remedial courses in the fall of 2010 completed the corresponding “gateway” courses in math or English within two years. Georgia saw those rates rise to 63 percent in math and 71 percent in English once it adopted the co-remediation model, the Complete College America report said. The study shares similar stories from West Virginia, Indiana, Tennessee, and Colorado.
A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.