Remediation first

Back in the last century, California State University system set a goal: Only 10 percent of freshmen would require remedial English or math classes. The reality: 60 percent of first-year students take remedial classes, despite earning a B average or better in high school. Staring in 2012, unprepared freshmen will have to take Early Start remedial classes before enrolling, reports Educated Guess.

That could take the form of an online course, an intensive summer bridge session at a CSU campus or a CSU-designed English writing course during students’ senior year in high school.

However, CSU would offer remediation to students who take Early Start classes but still need help.

Eleventh graders can take a voluntary CSU test as part of  the state exam to see if they’re prepared for college classes: 83 percent fail the English portion and 43 percent fail the math. In theory, they can raise their skills in 12th grade.

CSU . . .  has designed an expository reading and writing course, concentrating on persuasive writing, and has trained 4,500 high school teachers to teach it. It can be integrated into a senior or junior year English course or taught as a semester- or year-long course. The problem is that only about one-quarter of the state’s 1,000 comprehensive high schools use it, and only 15 percent intensively.

Why not require the college-prep English course for all college-bound students who aren’t in AP English? And require them to meet CSU standards or start at a community college that’s better equipped to help students catch up.

Tired of teach basic math to high school graduates, Foothill Community College math instructors have persuaded local teachers to adapt the college’s remedial math program for middle-school students who’ve fallen behind, reports the Mountain View Voice.

Students work individually through 10 “modules,” starting at the beginning with whole number concepts. The math students must write out each problem, box their answers and correct every mistake on their work.

There are no grades in the typical sense: To pass an exam at the end of each module, and move on through the program, students must score 87 percent or better.

. . . After the students take their assessment tests, the teachers meet and re-shuffle the classes. Students are grouped by their progress, so they will always be amongst peers who are around the same level.

I’ve seen this work in elementary school: Group students by performance level in math or reading, teach what the group needs to learn and let them move on quickly to a higher level. But principals told me it’s tricky to do because tracking raises accusations of bias. But dumping unprepared students in classes they can’t handle — and asking teachers to teach a huge range of skills in the same class — is OK.

In The Old College Lie, Quick and the Ed’s Chad Aldeman links to a Dallas Morning News story on high school graduates who passed all their classes and tests but find themselves in college learning how to use commas and distinguish between “your” and “you’re.”

About Joanne


  1. Weren’t reliable measures of achievement the intent of SATs and SAT IIs? Forget HS grades, which are pretty meaningless, raise the SAT scores for eligibility, require SAT IIs for math, sciences, history, foreign language etc and remove all remedial classes from 4-year schools. Those who don’t make the cut go to community colleges. Maybe, FINALLY, that would put enough pressure on the HS to demand better preparation from the ES-MS levels and demand real HS level work in HS.

  2. And how’s that pressure supposed to be applied?

    Will mis-educated kids who don’t get accepted to the schools they choose picket the central administration offices? TP the superintendents trees?

    Will their parents run for school board so that the next generation of school kids get a good education?

    Will current members of the school board be buttonholed in the produce section of the local supermarket by parents upset over the lousy ACT scores of the district high schools?

    How do you see this pressure being applied?

  3. wait until the CSU bills the high school for unproficient students who have passed the courses. Then you’ll see some astonishing progress.

  4. tim-10-ber says:

    Chris — Thank you!!

    I have been preaching that colleges need to bill the high schools for the remedial classes. I am so ready for this…then we get action, tracking, voc-tech, etc…stop this stupidity of insisting all children must go to college…ugh!

  5. Scrooge McDuck says:

    In The Old College Lie, Quick and the Ed’s Chad Aldeman links to a Dallas Morning News story on high school graduates who passed all their classes and tests but find themselves in college learning how to use commas and distinguish between “your” and “you’re.”

    Chad Aldeman also seemed to think Everyday Math was a fairly good program. Has he connected the dots on that one yet?

  6. I don’t understand why these kids are accepted. In a perfect world, they’d be in the Community Colleges, rather than the Cal State system. Instead, the CCs are packed with smart kids without money, or who are working as well as going to school, who then can’t get the classes they need to transfer to the UCs.

    And the Cal States churn out the majority of public school teachers who then get hired around the state to teach the next generation. Something is wrong with this picture.

  7. Why not make passing the CSU readiness test part of the admissions process? The kids going to CSU are supposed to be the top 1/3 of California’s high school graduates. They ought not to be needing remediation…

  8. wait until the CSU bills the high school for unproficient students who have passed the courses.

    Do the high schools get to bill the middle schools? Do the middle schools get to bill the elementary schools? If the student is a recent immigrant, can the schools bill Washington? If the student is an illegal alien or moves 3-4 times a year because the parents are worthless and can’t maintain a stable home life, who can you bill?

  9. tim-10-ber says:

    Cynical — I would have the teachers do peer reviews and hold each other accountable for sending to the next grade those students that are prepared for the next level of work. If they are not prepared they do not advance.

    Maybe, maybe then we can stop the failed factory model of government schools and educate each child according to their needs, readiness level, etc so that each child has the solid foundation and mastery of the skills and knowledge needed to thrive at the next level…

    Yes…I know the parents have to do their part…since they don’t that is why my proposal might work…if only some schools would try it…sign

  10. In reality, the above statistic means nothing, as it has been proven that the more remediation a student needs (2+ courses), the chances of that student EVER earning a degree of any sort is less than 30 percent.

    It would appear that the natural progression of social promotion in our public schools has filtered into our colleges, and as a result, employers often lament the lack of communication, critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving skills that high school and college graduates possess in the 21st century.

    If you want proof, watch the John Stossel news story “Is college a rip off?”

  11. Allen: I mean pressure for better preparation from HS to MS to ES. Don’t advance kids who don’t have the knowledge and skills. If that means requiring incoming freshmen to take the SSAT and make a pre-determined score, so be it. Ditto for requiring incoming MS kids to make a certain score on the ITBS or equivalent. Those scores should be posted online, along with the HS SAT/SAT II/ACT/AP/IB scores and GPAs, broken down by deciles or quintiles. If that means local teachers, administrators and school board members get buttonholed in the produce aisle of their local grocery, so much the better. Better curriculum (phonics, real math and real content across all disciplines), explicit instruction and ability grouping so that every kid spends all day working at his proper level, as fast as he can go. Don’t tolerated disruption, whether from mainstreamed kids, criminals or class clowns.

    I’m with Crimson Wife on requiring kids to pass an entrance test (could be system-wide, with different cut scores) as part of the admissions process. In other words, 4-year institutions should not be offering remedial courses or admitting students who need them.

  12. I agree with Momof4 to some extent, but the reason we’ve GOTTEN into this problem in the first place is due to self-esteem, social promotion, and other feel good malarky which passes for modern education today.

    If more students were actually FLUNKED and not promoted to the next grade, perhaps students and their parents might just realize that this isn’t a game.

    Admitted unprepared students to a 4 year institution shouldn’t be allowed by any college or university (I’m sorry, but you haven’t met the minimum requirements required for admission, please re-apply when you do).

    As many people have remarked, life isn’t always fair, and unlike the case Plyler vs. TX (1982), there is NO constitutional right to a college education (like there is for public schools).

  13. tim,

    i don’t know if you teach or not, but i do. and in my school, it doesn’t matter if a kid has had a zero all year in my classroom. i can fail that student all year. they have to fail 6 of their 8 classes (this includes specials) so, the old 50% is failing standard is out the window. also, even if they failed all 8 classes they would be promoted — as long as the attend summer school for 1 day. (s.s. is 5 weeks long, but as long as they show up once, they pass).

    teachers in my district have zero say in who passes or not. the district officials and principals have bought in to the social promotion thing 100% and they have all the power. stop blaming teachers for passing failing students. it’s a sweeping generalization and an assumption.

    i HATE that i have students who have moved up to 9th grade when they have not passed my 8th grade course, but i really don’t get a say in the matter. at all.

  14. I actually trained this year in the Expository Reading and Writing Course. Unfortunately, in spite of high hopes, we won’t actually be offering the class. The original intention was to pilot ERWC in place of one section of English Lit and one section of World Lit, both of which are senior level college prep courses in our district.

    The reality of budgets meant that we couldn’t even do the pilot program. The materials were too expensive and we simply couldn’t afford it. They are cheaper than lit anthologies, but our lit anthologies are already paid for, and the ERWC materials are consumables that need to be purchased every year. As is typical for our district, it looks like we will be asked to pull out an activity or two that teachers can plug into any English class, and ignore the rest.

  15. You have a GREAT fantasy life, there, momof4. You really wouldn’t find teachers objecting.

  16. momof4, I understand why you want to apply pressure. I want to know how you propose to apply that pressure – what’s the mechanism by which a school, or more likely a district, will be compelled or persuaded to incorporate some percentage of kids passing some test to….do what? Close schools? Can teachers? Get new textbooks? Can the superintendent? The principal?

  17. raise the SAT scores for eligibility, require SAT IIs for math, sciences, history, foreign language etc and remove all remedial classes from 4-year schools

    Note: They use SAT scores for remediation; an SAT score of 530 or higher on math or English gets you out of remediation.

    Any SAT score limit would basically wipe out African American and Hispanic enrollment. About 10-20% of the African American population scores about 500 on any section of the SAT, and the elite schools grab as many of those kids as they can. The CSUs are generally taking the kids who get 300s and 400s.

    I’m all for a baseline SAT, but it’s politically impossible. Lots of liberals take it as an article of faith that the SAT is racially biased. And again, as a matter of pure impact, there would be no blacks or Hispanics at the CSU.

  18. I should start laughing…politically impossible is a cop-out for people who think education is a waste of their time. I was in a local fast food restaurant, and two young men (insert whatever minority ethnic group you want here) were sitting in the restaurant (while cutting class) talking about rap music, texting and talking on their cell phones, and generally screwing around. Then they are joined by a girl who got kicked out of school for a week because she fought with another girl who disrepected her.

    They look at me and say ‘hey man, you’re all dressed up, what kind of work do you do?’ I tell them I work in computer security. They ask me, how long did you have to go to school to learn how to do that…my response…high school, and three college degrees later, about 12 years including high school. Their response – “man, that sucks…” I said, well, if you want that chance, you better learn something in high school, because it only gets harder.

    I wonder if they got anything out of what I said…

  19. I should start laughing…politically impossible is a cop-out for people who think education is a waste of their time.

    No doubt you’re one of those crazy morons sitting on the street with a cup. Your post is non-responsive to the reasons it’s politically impossible. I very much doubt you understand why.

  20. the sad truth is that the student is getting saddled with high school debt — needing to pay for courses that should have been completed in high school.

    of course, the student isn’t paying for all of the cost, so we’re all paying for the high school debt.

  21. palisadesk says:

    Addressing this problem needs to start in the elementary grades.
    It’s ridiculous to expect a high school teacher to get a student who enters ninth grade English with a fourth grade reading level up to tenth grade level in one school year, in the instructional time available. Remediating serious skill deficits is like the Sysyphus legend — rolling the rock uphill is harder and harder the farther you go.

    Remediating reading delays in a first or second grade student is doable; in a fifth or sixth grade student it is usually MUCH more time-consuming and takes, in addition to more intensive instruction, a lot of overcoming of affective issues (feelings of shame, failure, “hating reading”) and bad habits. The same goes for written language and mathematics. By high school, some of these students are so far out of the game that only an intensive program can possibly make a significant difference in many cases.

    KIPP schools say that their average fifth grade cohort enters fifth grade one year below grade level. They still need an extended day and year to enable those students to catch up and excel. Many urban students are *two* years below grade level by fifth grade, and four years below grade level by ninth grade.

    Like Joanne, I have worked in elementary schools where students were given appropriate help in the core subjects, in small, instructional level groups, and could be moved along rapidly in many cases. However, cutbacks to staffing and flexibility have made that kind of instructional support much less common. In my district, not only can TEACHERS not fail students in elementary grades, principals cannot do so either. Any request to repeat a grade – a request that usually comes from the parent — must be dealt with at upper administrative levels. Such requests are almost always denied.

    Research has found that most students who repeat grades do not maintain any short-term benefit; however, the research does not distinguish between students who repeat (doing more of what didn’t work in the first place) versus stduents who repeat and are given intensive instructional support. My hypothesis is that the latter would show lasting positive effects.

    However, as it is, we are just passing the problem up to the high schools, and they pass it on to the colleges, because no effective interventions exist on a large scale.

  22. Cal,

    I’ve seen first hand the slippery slope that education has taken since the early 1990’s. I also have a lot of friends who are teachers who also tell me that fads in education (fuzzy math, look say reading), and a lot of other things simply haven’t worked.

    As a result, an entire generation of people have grown up without the ability to perform tasks that were once common place in the 1980’s, 1970’s, and 1960’s.

    Have you seen college classrooms today, it’s more like grade 13 and 14 for some of these students (I’ve taught at a community college) and to give you an example, around 1981 when I took my first programming class, we had no less than 30-35 programming assignments, 4 quizzes, a mid-term and final exam, and a class project.

    In today’s world, a student in their first programming class MIGHT do one-third (1/3) of the above work (and don’t get me started on the overwhelming sense of entitlement a lot of students at the public and college level have anymore).

    If you want some proof, take a look at John Stossel’s “Is college a ripoff?” and “Stupid In America”.

    Perhaps it might open your eyes to what in my opinion is the downfall of the american dream (and way of life).

  23. Palisa,

    I agree with your comment, but in terms of political correctness, the ability of teachers and principals not being able to FLUNK students for doing little or NO required work in a semester is an absolute joke.

    I went to school at a time if you failed a required course, you either made it up the next year, or had to make it up in summer school if you wanted to graduate on time. In addition, teachers and administrators didn’t give a crap about the self esteem level of their students, or how they felt about themselves (that issue fell to the parents).

    One nice thing is that prior to Plyler vs TX being ruled upon by the USSC (1982), the school district didn’t waste it’s time chasing students who wanted to drop out at age 16 (or earlier), due to the fact it was easier to teach a smaller number of students who actually wanted to learn, rather than having the class idiots ruin it for everyone else.

    If a teacher cannot retain a student who isn’t prepared for work, the student will get an eye opening experience when they get fired from their first job for being unable to do it (unlike public education, most businesses in the private sector have to make money and in order to do so, they hire the best people they can get, and don’t waste their time on persons who don’t want to learn, or have attitude problems, they just fire ’em.


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