B students need remedial classes

B students in high school are finding themselves in remedial classes at community colleges, Community College Spotlight reports.

Ninety-four percent of Chicago Public Schools graduates who go to city community colleges need remediation in math. Most also need to work on basic reading and writing skills. Many thought they were doing well in high school.

Eighty-five percent of California’s incoming community college students aren’t prepared for college math and 70 percent aren’t ready for college English. Four out of five remedial students had a B average or higher in high school. Instructors are experimenting with accelerated remediation to get students into college-level classes quickly.

If high school students realized the odds of having to pay for no-credit classes in college, would they work harder and learn the skills earlier? You’d think so.

Update: In Pennsylvania, a B+ student finds himself in remedial reading and writing. Unlike most remedial students, he earns an associate degree, but it takes six years.

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  1. Cranberry says:

    “If high school students realized the odds of having to pay for no-credit classes in college, would they work harder and learn the skills earlier?”

    Is it possible to learn the skills in a non-honors class? How low is the bar set in the lower tracks? At present, schools feel under pressure 1) to make students pass the NCLB tests, and 2) to graduate as many students as possible (including students who would rather drop out). Some school districts have made it almost impossible to flunk out, what with “automatic 50” policies. Far too many students seem to be A students. Lax grading and low standards do not prepare students for college.

    Yes, there are certainly students who are encouraged to attend college, but have no business pursuing a college degree. A B student in a (genuine) college track course shouldn’t fall in that category.

    It does explain the strong desire on the part of middle-class parents to enroll their children in gifted programs/honors track courses.

  2. I’d like to see colleges refuse to admit new HS grads needing remediation; the responsibility should be turned back to the k-12 systems that shoved them along without making them acquire grade-level knowledge and skills. Giving undeserved Bs (or Cs, or Ds) is doing no favor; nor is giving undeserved diplomas. Schools need to teach and students need to know from kindergarten entry that behavioral and academic standards wil be enforced.

  3. I would agree with Mom Of 4, there is no place for a student in college who needs remediation in english, reading, and math. I remember 30 years ago, students planning on going to college were STRONGLY URGED to take the following courses:

    Math (3 units) including Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II/Trig
    Science (2 to 3 units) including at least one lab science (Biology/Chem/Physics)
    English (4 units) including composition and literature
    History (3 units) World, US History and Government
    Foreign Lang. (1 unit)

    Now, 30 years ago, calculators (ala the ole TI-55) cost about $100 and were just coming onto the market, but for many of us, we learned math the old fashioned way, with reading, pencil, and paper.

    A person who is attending college out of high school should be ready for the following courses (1st semester):

    Math (finite/pre-calculus/calculus) (3-4 credit)
    Science (General Biology or General Chemistry) 3-4 credit)
    English 101 (3 credits)
    Political Science 101 (3 credits)

    If not, go enroll in adult education at your local school district or go the library and spend a year studying what you should have actually learned in high school.


  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Most Ponzi schemes collapse, eventually.

  5. There should be *no* remedial math or English classes at our state-run universities. As a taxpayer I already paid once for you to get that basic education, I shouldn’t have to pay for it again at college.

  6. I read the same article and wrote about this recently on my website. I agree with your theory – that if students realized they’d have to pay for non-credit coursework, they’d be more likely to work harder in high school; however, most students won’t realize this because most students don’t “pay” for college in a sense that seems real to them. We have plenty of students use Pell grant money or other types of financial aid for developmental work, only to run out of financial aid later on in their academic career, when they’re finally taking for-credit courses. Even those on student loans have a difficult time understanding that they’re spending actual money.

  7. I wouldn’t deny admittance totally to students who need remediation, but I would make their matriculation conditional upon them passing the placement test. The high schools should be on the hook for paying for ALEKS or some other online remedial coursework.

  8. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    I wonder if it would be possible to sue a high school for fraud in the way it gives grades? The students seem the obvious plaintiffs, but employers might have a cause of action, too.

    The “automatic 50” rule seems particularly good evidence to put in front of a jury (assuming it got that far).

  9. Darren; You are also paying for Pell Grants and other financial aid for these kids, even though they don’t belong in college in the first place. Only the government would subsidize those most UNlikely to succeed.

  10. If a high-school student is receiving grades of B, how is she going to know that she’s not prepared for college work?

  11. Joseph: Right. We give all our non-honors juniors the English placement test from our local cc every year. We give them the results. Those who don’t pass it are enrolled in the remedial class from the community college in our school (same texts and the teacher also teaches the same course at the cc). Many still blow it off. I mean, I don’t know how we could get any clearer.

  12. As a college prof in the CSU system, I would like to see a policy in place that says that if you need remediation in math and/or writing, you must attend a community college until your skills are sufficient for a 4 year school. Community college is far cheaper than 4 year schools, and classes are usually smaller.

    I would also like to see a shift of certain 4-year degress to 2-year AA degrees. At my university, we actually have 4-year degrees in Travel & Tourism, Leisure Studies & Management, Physical Education, Parks & Recreation… why anyone needs a 4 year degree in these fields is beyond me… at 2-year AA followed by an apprenticeship seems more than sufficient.

  13. @LightlySeasoned: People in general have an almost limitless capacity for overestimating themselves. When I say they don’t realize they’ll have to pay for non-credit classwork, I don’t mean to suggest that no one is preparing them for the possibility. I’m simply suggesting that they’re cognitively unable to deeply appreciate their own limitations. I’ve seen students take three years of math in high school, skip a fourth year of math, and take a 2.0 GPA into college placement testing only to discover they’re in need of developmental math. The same students will petition to take college level math because “they know they can do it.” I don’t know the answer, but I do know the dynamic.

  14. Four out of five remedial students had a B average or higher in high school.

    That right there tells you the true value of a “B.” Can you say “grade inflation”? I knew you could 😉

    I think part of the problem is that students needing remediation is a winner for the college, in a sense: students that have to go through a semester (or two, or three, or…however many classes are in the sequence and however many attempts they take to get a “C” and move on) of remediation means that students have to stick around longer to complete their degree (if they persevere, that is). Of course, this translates into more $$$ for the schools.

    I was talking the other day with one of my colleagues at the CC where I teach math. He’s been there 17 years, and he told me in that time he’s seen the remedial math courses go from 3-4 sections per semester to what it is now – at least eightfold (if not more), I would estimate. And then just this morning I overheard one colleague tell another that she had read some stats that on average, a full-time student takes 3.4 years to get an associate’s degree *at our CC.* (Don’t know nationwide stats or anything like that.) For the foreseeable future, our math adjunct faculty don’t have to worry about there not being enough math classes to go around – the remedial program is going great guns.

  15. Greifer says:

    — If high school students realized the odds of having to pay for no-credit classes in college, would they work harder and learn the skills earlier?”

    Learn them from where? They are earning Bs. They are being admitted into college. Their parents and they themselves have no reason to realize that they’ve spent 13 years learning too little to be prepared for college. If they do have that inkling, what more would “work harder” mean? How would producing another movie for English class teach them to write? How would cooking better enchiladas teach them the history of the Mexican-American war?

    They need to be taught something of value in order for working harder to mean they are better prepared.

  16. tim-10-ber says:

    Great comments…I continue to push for the K-12 districts that graduated the students paying for the remedial classes needed for kids that truly want/need a post secondary degree. Start taking real dollars out of their pockets that cannot be replaced by other sources and maybe they will get the message…so many K-12 systems are failing (grossly) too many kids…the districts should be sued for gross negligence and willful misconduct…this is shameful.

  17. If the student had to pay full price for non-credit courses to get ready to take the pre-req courses needed to get into a particular major, perhaps they might think about attending school for a year picking up coursework (none of which gives you credit towards your degree)…that 24-30 credit hours worth of coursework should make many of them simply drop out.

    Taking 3.5 years to complete an associates degree is simply insane (at 12-13 credits a semester, plus 6 during the summer, you’d finish in approximately 2-2.5 years), assuming you worked your tail off.

    Compared to 30 years ago when I was in high school, your “C” average student back then would get an “A” if they went to high school today due to grade inflation (which does a dis-service to everyone).

    Also, requiring students to take placement exams from the university or colleges, or even the ACT, would be a good indicator of how well prepared a student is for college coursework (a college bound student should have a ACT composite of at least 21 or higher) to have a decent chance of success.

    If their composite ACT is below 16, they should be pulled aside and politely told that if they want to go to college, they’ll be taking remedial coursework for at least a year, and they should also be told that none of the coursework counts towards a degree or certification program of any time (at a comm. or junior college).

  18. Only the government would subsidize those most UNlikely to succeed.

    Welcome to the world of “social” justice.

  19. a lot of this has to do with administrators, I know that is a “teacher” response, but give me a second.

    When I started I was a pretty easy teacher, I guess. I got a nice “talking to” by my dean telling me I had too many A’s & B’s because those students weren’t advanced or proficient on the state test.

    So I adjusted and made my class more challenging, so much so that for the last 3 years my Algebra B scores perfectly align with their state test score. In other words, if you get a B or higher in my class you were proficient or higher on the state test. Nice right?

    No. I was told by my dean two years after the first talk that I was giving too many D’s and F’s. I said I was trying to align my course to match their test score. When I was asked if I would have that many Basics or Below Basics, I said yes the students aren’t working hard enough to do any better. And you know what? Those D’s and F’s got Basic or worse.

    So what is a teacher supposed to do? Within 2 years, I was told 2 conflicting things. Welcome to education.

  20. Not only is there grade inflation, but there’s clearly something going on with math curricula in Chicago. This website – http://www.cmsi.cps.k12.il.us/Programs.aspx?SchoolType=Elementary&CurriculumType=Mathematics – shows what curricula they use. Incidentally, it lists the curricula I intentionally avoid for my own children. At what point can we say that Everyday Math and its ilk are obvious (yet not admitted) losers in the “math wars”?

  21. Heh, Everyday Math has been shown as not effective in teaching students math in the K-12 system. Perhaps the district should look at using Singapore Math or Kumon? At least the students might have a decent shot at actually learning math under these two programs.


  22. I don’t buy stuff like that Bill. I learned math that way, as did most of this country. So why is it not working now? Could it be that the other parts of the equation (parents & students) aren’t working hard enough to get it?

  23. You people are all assuming that all it takes are better teachers or harder working students.

    Hard work and better (and honest) teachers will take care of a fringe group–maybe 5%.

    But the rest of them will not be able to learn college prep courses.

    The simple reality is that most experts know this. They just refuse to acknowledge it.

  24. This URL is from an evaluation of Everyday Math in 1999:


    It’s less than flattering to be sure. I sure didn’t learn any kind of math with this question being asked when I was in public schools:

    It is also worth noting that some of the activities for students in Everyday Math have little or no merit. For example, the Grade 5 Journal 1 has a worksheet on page 34 entitled “Time to Reflect” which has the following fill-in-the-blank problems*:

    2 Complete the following statements

    a. If math were a color, it would be_______, because, ________

    b. If it were food, it would be _________, because, _________

    c. If it were weather, it would be ________, because, _________

    d. If it were an animal it would be a(n) _______, because, _____

    * Much more space is allowed for the student responses after the word “because” in the submitted material than is indicated here.

    IMO, the above statement has NOTHING to DO with the actual USAGE of math in problem solving.

    If this is the kind of math students are being taught in ‘Everyday Math’, it’s no wonder students cannot do math at all (esp. in grades 1-5, where basic skills are absolutely critical if students are going to succeed later on).

  25. Most of the country learned math after 1998? (when Everyday Math’s first edition came out) Sorry, Mr. W, you’ll have to come up with a better defense of Everyday Math than that. Also, to judge by US performance on international tests, American students just aren’t that great at math. If we’re going to point fingers at teachers, administration, students, and parents, I think curricula is definitely fair game, too. In fact, it’s one of the best things for reformers to go after because we can’t do much to change the first four. Changing people is crazy-hard; changing teaching materials to straightforward math texts and workbooks, not so much.

  26. I misread his statement, I thought he meant math classes everyday. I will agree that Everyday Math isn’t effective, but I can assure you at our school that kind of math isn’t taught. If it is being taught at any level then everything you said is true.