Parents pay $1.5 billion remedial college bill

One in four first-year college students must take remedial classes, according to an Education Reform study. Their families pay nearly $1.5 billion for no-credit classes.

Forty-five percent of remedial students come from middle- and upper-income families and nearly half are enrolled at four-year colleges.

“People are underestimating the breadth and depth of high school underperformance. They think it’s not their kids,” said Michael Dannenberg of Education Reform Now, a co-author of the report.

Dropout rates are much higher for unprepared students, leaving many with college debts, but no college degree.

Get real: Most grads aren’t college ready

Forty percent of A students are placed in remedial classes in community college, according to a new report, Expectations Meet Reality, by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. Over all, 86 percent of new students say they’re well prepared academically and 68 percent start — and usually end — in remediation.

Most remedial students quit before earning a credential, writes Meredith Kolodner for the Hechinger Report. Colleges are trying alternatives, such as starting unprepared students in college-level courses with access to basic skills help, to raise low success rates.

Stop with the political correctness and admit the truth that “ordinary people” already know, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli. “Lots of high school graduates aren’t ready for college

Less than 40 percent of 12th graders are ready for college, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), he writes. Yet nearly all are urged to enroll in college.

As the “college preparation gap” grows, completion rates are trending downward: The six-year graduation rate is 53 percent for those who started college in 2009.

We should stop encouraging unprepared students to go to college, writes Petrilli. “Why saddle them with debt and regret? Why allow colleges to cash checks from Pell Grants that aren’t going to do the students, or taxpayers, any good?”

Telling the truth about unprepared students’ high failure rates in college is politically impossible because most public schools don’t offer real alternatives — or the truth — to students who are on the remedial track. They need a chance to catch up in high school and choose (real) academic college prep or (real) career prep leading to a two-year degree or certificate with workplace value.

Educating the unready

“Corequisite remediation” — letting students take college-level requirements while catching up on basic skills — triples the (very low) success rate for unprepared college students, concludes Spanning the Divide, a new Complete College America report. Success is defined as the number of underprepared students who complete introductory college-level math and English courses.

One in three recent high school graduates — including 56 percent of blacks and 45 percent of Latinos — are placed in remedial courses, according to CCA.

The rate is higher at community colleges, where only 20 percent of remedial students go on to complete an introductory college course in their weak subject within two years.

Corequisite remediation raised the success rate to 61 percent in math and 64 percent in English, according to the report.

Rising grad rate is phony statistic

The high school graduation rate is “the phoniest statistic in education,” writes Robert Pondiscio. It’s up to a new high of 82 percent. But student proficiency isn’t up.  Neither is college readiness.

A high school diploma “signals to college admissions staffers, employers, and others that the holder has achieved some reasonable level of academic proficiency,” he writes. “But it’s also a faith-based system. It only works if people believe it stands for something tangible.”

There has been no equally dramatic spike in SAT scores. Don’t look for a parallel uptick on seventeen-year-old NAEP, better performance on AP tests, or the ACT, either. You won’t find it. The only thing that appears to be rising is the number of students in need of remedial math and English in college. And the number of press releases bragging about huge increases in graduation rates.

Rising graduation rates may reflect the drop in teen pregnancy and efforts to identify and help high-risk students, writes Motoko Rich in the New York Times. But schools and districts can pump up the numbers by making it easy for students to “recover” unearned credits.

In Baltimore, five-year graduation rates have risen from 66.7 percent in 2010 to 74.9 percent in 2014, notes Pondiscio.  But 36.5 percent of students graduated via the “High School Bridge for Academic Validation Plan.”

There’s “no way of knowing whether (credit recovery is) academically rigorous or merely a failsafe to paper over failure and drag unprepared kids across the finish line to boost graduation rates,” he writes. “There may yet be a pony at the bottom of this prodigious pile.” Or not.

New York City’s graduation rate has hit 70 percent, reports Chalkbeat. However, the 24 percent rise since 2005 “is sure to elicit questions about the meaning of those numbers, especially following a wave of media reports last year detailing incidents where schools changed students’ grades or awarded them unearned credits in order to help them graduate.”

B’s in high school, remediation in college

California’s state universities should stop admitting students who need remedial math or English, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast. Unprepared students should start at community colleges.

He teaches at a college-oriented high school in an affluent Sacramento suburb.  Forty percent of graduates who go to Sacramento State require remediation. Overall, 53 percent of Sac State freshman are placed in remedial classes, reports the Sacramento Bee.

“Experts say the primary factors are a lack of collaboration between universities and high schools, inadequate information about the expectations of college and an increase in the emphasis on attending college for students who previously would have pursued another track,” reports the Bee.

The Cal State system requires a B average or lower grades with above-average test scores. It’s supposed to admit the upper third of the graduating class.

So a lot of high schools are giving B’s in college-prep courses to students who aren’t prepared for college.

At Grant Union High School in Sacramento, all students are enrolled in college prep classes, said Jacqueline Perez, associate superintendent of teaching and learning at Twin Rivers Unified. Despite this, only 10 of the 54 students who were accepted into Sacramento State passed the placement tests in math and English.

Sac State hopes to cut remedial classes by partnering with school districts, community colleges and education nonprofits.

The university is hoping to provide curriculum to schools, as well as math and English courses that could be taught at the high school or at the university. CSUS officials are encouraging high schools to promote exams like the SAT and PSAT and Accelerated College Entrance coursework that will help incoming freshmen avoid remediation and even earn college credits . . .

“Share the standards, let us know what college students need–and let us provide that education to students,” writes Darren.  “Those that master it will be ready to attend a university. Those that don’t, won’t be.”

Sixteen or 17 years ago, when I was on the editorial board of the San Jose Mercury News, the new head of the Cal State system, Charles Reed, came in to discuss his plan for cutting remediation. Statewide, more than half of new students required at least one remedial class.

The big innovation was limiting university students to one year of remediation before they had to go to community college. CSU also put an option readiness test on the state exam, so 11th graders could see if they were on track for college-level courses. And, of course, CSU was going to work with high schools.

Reed said moving all remediation to the community colleges was politically impossible.

Achieve’s How the States Got Their Rates looks at high school graduation requirements. Only a few states require all students to meet “college and career readiness” standards.

Colleges asks: How much math?

Math is the largest barrier to high school and college graduation for Washington students, reports Katherine Long for the Seattle Times. Now community colleges are lowering math requirements and redesigning remedial math to help more student earn a degree.

Students who are studying to become nurses, social workers, early-childhood educators or carpenters may never use intermediate algebra, much less calculus. Yet for years, community colleges have used a one-size-fits-all math approach that’s heavy on algebra and preps students for calculus.

. . . Some colleges . . .  have started to offer a math sequence that focuses on statistics, and persuaded the state’s four-year colleges to accept it as a college math credit. Others are offering a learn-at-your-own-pace approach.

Seattle Central is using Statway, a remedial math alternative developed by the Carnegie Foundation. By the third year, 84 percent of students passed the three-course series, which includes college credit in statistics. That year, only 15 percent of remedial students completed one quarter of college math by the end of one year.

Statway credits transfer to all of the state’s public four-year universities, though only on a trial basis at University of Washington. Janice DeCosmo, a UW associate dean,  warns Statway “can limit students’ career choices because it doesn’t prepare them to take calculus,” writes Long.

Learning statistics enables students to “interpret the world around them,” argues Paul Verschueren, a Statway instructor.

Other community colleges are using the “emporium” approach to remedial math. At Big Bend Community College, instructors record short video mini-lessons on math topics. “Students watch the videos, then test their understanding, entering answers in a computer program that gives them immediate feedback,” writes Long.

Students progress at their own pace.

Remediate in high school, not college

Education Realist’s policy proposals start with banning remediation at the college level.

 My cutoff would be second-year algebra and a lexile score of 1000 (that’s about tenth grade, yes?) for college, but we could argue about it. Everyone who can’t manage that standard after twelve years of K-12 school can go to trade school or to adult education . . .

The community college system could be split into a tier for college-level work and another for adult education, Ed Realist proposes. Money spent on remediating college students could beef up adult education, which has “withered and nearly died.”

(Some states already separate “community colleges,” which offer academic classes, from “technical colleges,” which do only job training. The tech colleges have much higher success rates.

Instead of placing all students in college-prep classes, high schools should offer remedial classes to those who need them, proposes Ed Realist.

In 1997, Chicago Public Schools wanted all freshmen to take algebra, so all remedial and pre-algebra classes were dumped. . . . A decade ago, Madison, Wisconsin did the same thing. California effectively banned pre-algebra in high school by docking test scores of students who weren’t taking algebra in 8th grade (drop one score category) or, god forbid, 9th grade (drop two score categories).

City after city, state by state, schools took away the “easy” math options: business math, consumer math, general math. At the same time math credits required for graduation became more difficult.

In English, history and science, high school students with elementary reading skills are in the same classes as those reading at the college level, writes ER.

Since I work in a Title I school, the high-ability students I see losing out on more rigor and challenges are also poor students, often Hispanic or black. Teachers can’t adequately challenge strong students while also encouraging weaker students.

. . . To avoid blame, schools and teachers run roughshod over rigor by lowering standards. (Feel free to blame me on this count; I refuse to hold my students to standards they didn’t choose when it’s a choice between failing or graduating.)

Students shouldn’t have to go to college to be taught arithmetic,  basic math literacy, pre-algebra and general-purpose reading and composition, ER writes.

UW will ID schools with unprepared grads

The University of Wisconsin will report on high schools whose graduates require remedial courses, under a new state law, reports the Courier.

“I’ve heard from many parents who were stunned to learn that despite getting good enough grades to get into a UW system school, their kids aren’t prepared to start their college career,”said Rep. John Jagler, the bill’s author.

Remedial math classes are packed at University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse.

Remedial math classes are packed at UW-Lacrosse.

“My hope is that by shining a light on what schools these students attended, discussions can begin at the local and state level on finding solutions to better prepare students for higher education.”

Math is the largest barrier. Systemwide, one in five first-year UW students require remedial math, reported the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last year.

UW is trying to “boost the percentage of freshmen who complete remedial courses in their first year of college by changing the way those courses are taught, including providing more hands-on tutoring, doing more problem-solving in class and using special computer software.”

ACT is phasing out its college placement test, reports Inside Higher EdCompass and Accuplacer, a similar test from the College Board, place some students in remedial courses who might pass college-level courses, according to a 2012 study.

Core exams replace college placement tests

Scoring “college ready” on a Common Core-aligned test will mean something for students in some states, writes Lindsay Tepe on EdCentral.

Nearly 200 colleges and universities in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington will use the Smarter Balanced test’s “college ready” designation to place first-year students in college-level courses. The Core-aligned exam will replace placement tests such as Accuplacer or COMPASS.

Several colleges, including Illinois’ community college system, will use PARCC scores to decide who is ready for college-level courses.

At community colleges and non-flagship universities, placement tests steer many students to non-credit, remedial coursework. Few who start at the remedial level go on to complete a degree. Research shows some would do just as well (or no worse) in college-level courses, writes Tepe.

Delaware, where more than half of high school graduates end up in remedial courses and fail them at an alarming rate, this new route to college-level courses could make a big difference for students. Those who score a 3 or higher on Smarter Balanced who are planning to attend the University of Delaware or Delaware State University (remediation rates of 18 and 81 percent, respectively) will proceed directly into classes that will contribute toward their chosen degrees.

How many students who did poorly on the placement test would have done well on SBAC or PARCC? I’m guessing not many. (Delaware taxpayers fund a state university where four out of five students are unprepared?)

By the way, the new euphemism for remedial courses is “pre-college” courses.

Defining ‘college readiness’ down


Naesea Price teaches a lesson on sentence and paragraph structure in a remedial English course at Baltimore City Community College.

“College readiness” has been redefined as ready to take middle-school courses in college, writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

A movement for “co-requisite remediation” is placing remedial students in college-level courses, he complains.

Massachusetts will stop requiring a placement test for new students with a 2.7  grade point average (in all subjects). Those with a 2.4 grade point average who’ve passed four years of math also will be placed in college-level math.

A kid with a D in math but good grades in photography, gym, and basket weaving could easily end up with a 2.7 GPA, notes Finn. Four years of D’s in math and he needs only a 2.4 (C) average.

Florida’s open-access state colleges (formerly community colleges) now let students skip remediation and start in college-level courses, if they choose, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Alarmed by the high dropout and failure rates for college students who start out in remedial classes, Florida lawmakers voted last year to make such courses, and even the related placement tests, optional for anyone who…earned a [high school] diploma….The optional-remediation law is forcing professors in college-level composition classes to spend time on basic sentence structure, while mathematics teachers who were ready to plunge into algebra are going over fractions.

These students are earning college credit for learning middle-school skills, writes Finn.

There’s an easy way to make the reform look like a success.

Just teach fractions and sentence structure to students in courses that you label “college-level” — even though they’re not. Dumb ‘em down. Cheapen the currency. And again defraud the students (and anyone who might someday contemplate employing them) into believing that they really were prepared for college and are now getting a college education, even though neither of those statements is actually true.

Employers already are concerned that college graduates lack important skills, writes Finn. There’s “mounting evidence” that many graduates haven’t learned very much. Sending more unprepared students to college further cheapens the meaning of “college-educated,” he argues.