Colleges spend nearly $7 billion a year on remedial education. Some are working with high schools to offer “transitional” math and English courses to low-performing 12th graders with college aspirations.
Twenty-six states now link college funding to student outcomes or are planning to do so, reports Complete College America. Twenty-two states are accelerating college remediation or placing students in “gateway” courses with added support. College graduation rates will start to rise in 2014, the group predicts.
Some community college students who fail placement tests don’t really need remedial classes, researchers say. Colleges should tell students their scores matter and give everyone a practice test, they recommend.
High failure rates in remedial math have prompted Illinois community college teachers to develop “math literacy” courses for students in non-STEM majors.
A remedial revolution will hit Florida next fall: Most state college students will not be required to take remedial courses, regardless of their college readiness.
“Accelerated” remediation is getting more community college students to college-level math and English in California.
College and career readiness” is the goal — but not the reality — for high school graduates. States and school districts are developing “transitional” curricula to move 12th graders off the remedial track.
Reformers are trying to keep students out of dead-end remedial courses. Low-skilled students can’t handle college coursework without help, argues a professor.
Carnegie’s Statway is getting students out of the remedial rut: Half of Statway students earn a college math credit in a year, compared to 5.9 percent of similar students in traditional remedial courses.
In Colorado, “early remediation” starts in eighth grade. Students who pass remedial college courses in English and math can enroll in college-level courses as early as 10th grade.
Maryland schools are placing more students in Advanced Placement classes, reports the Baltimore Sun. But many fail the AP exam and and “arrive at college with. . . skills so low they must take remedial classes.”
“We just set those kids up for complete failure because they just get hammered when they get to college,” said Steve Syverson, a board member of the National Association of College Admission Counseling.
More than half of Maryland’s public school graduates now take an AP class and nearly 30 percent have passed at least one exam, the highest rate in the country. But in 19 high schools in the Baltimore region, more than half of the students who earned an A or B in an AP class failed the exam, a Sun analysis found.
Trevor Packer, head of AP for the College Board, acknowledges that the program is being misused in some schools, with students taking classes before they are ready. For instance, he said, 20,000 African-American students in Maryland took AP exams last year, but the College Board predicted that only 2,000 had a strong chance of passing because of scores on other tests.
At Woodlawn, a high-poverty, high-minority school, only 7 percent of AP students passed the exam last year, reports the Sun. At Dulaney High, which enrolls primarily middle-class whites and Asian-Americans, most AP students will earn college credit.
“A common response to the access problem was to helicopter-drop AP courses into disadvantaged high schools,” said Kristin Klopfenstein, executive director for the Education Innovation Institute at the University of Northern Colorado. “The thinking was that this would improve these schools by setting high expectations.”
Adam Sutton teaches AP economics at Woodlawn. “I refuse to lie to my students about where they are with regards to meeting AP standards,” Sutton said. By mid-year, nearly half his students had quit the class.
Woodlawn doesn’t have a critical mass of top students who have grown up in a culture of high achievement, teachers said. Too often, students sail through the gifted and honors classes with top grades by showing up and following directions. And when they look around the school, they see themselves as the best students.
They don’t realize they’re not ready to do college-level work till they get to campus.
Many teachers think students will do better in college if they take an AP class, even if they fail to earn credit. It’s not clear that’s true, reports the Sun.
Jamaal Abdul-alim earned a journalism degree at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. He returned, writing for the Washington Monthly, to ask why only 19 percent of black students complete a degree in six years, half the rate for the university as a whole. Why did he make it when so many fail?
UWM admits more than 90 percent of applicants, but its graduation rates are low compared to other nonselective universities, he writes. Bowling Green State University in Ohio, which admits 80 percent of students, graduates 50 percent of black students within six years. Nationally, the black graduation rate is 31.2 percent.
Abdul-alim had one huge advantage over most of his black classmates: “strong familial and financial support.”
My father . . . worked for Wisconsin Bell . . . From the earliest days of my childhood, I remember my father talking about the need for me to “go further” than he did educationally, how he enrolled in a technical college once but was distracted by wanting to hang out with his buddies in a pool hall in his hometown.
My mother, a woman of Polish descent from Milwaukee’s South Side, investigated insurance claims for Blue Cross Blue Shield. She was always taking me on trips to museums and the like and exposed me to a wide variety of books, such as Manchild in the Promised Land, which she required her only son to read once he started to veer toward trouble in school and in the streets. I had my own desk and shelves full of books for as far back as I can remember. My parents earned enough to invest in a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica for me back when encyclopedia salesmen still went door to door.
Still, his predominantly black high school didn’t demand much of students. He transferred to a predominantly white high school to get a better education, but “couldn’t hack” the rigor and transferred back.
At UWM, he barely passed remedial algebra, then failed college-level algebra three times, before passing an intensive summer course at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).
Math is a significant barrier to black students at UWM, Abdul-alim found. He met a young newspaper reporter who completed a journalism degree — except for the math requirement. While she tries to pass math, she’s starting to make payments on $34,000 in student loan debt.
Weak academic preparation isn’t the only problem, black students told Abdul-alim. Some said they lacked focus, discipline and career goals.
Lester Kern Jr., a dreadlocked 23-year-old psychology major, started in spring of 2008 but was still a junior five years later. “I was partying too much for my first two semesters,” Kern said. “The biggest factor for why I didn’t do well is I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I figured there was no big goal I was working toward so I felt if I messed up, no big deal.”
Abdul-alim decided in high school that he wanted to be a journalist. He worked part-time for the Milwaukee Sentinel, whose editor said he wouldn’t hire him full-time without a bachelor’s degree.
He meets Nick Robinson, a black graduate who’s an architect. The son of an engineer and a court reporter he had “a very strong intellectual base” that others lack, he said. “They don’t understand that concept of, if you want something go get it. They think it’s some mystery. Like it has to work out in the universe. No, you put it in the universe.”
It’s not clear why UWM’s black graduation rate is so much lower than at other nonselective universities. The university is working on improving remedial math, writes Abdul-alim. Academic advising for black students (aka “segregated” advising) has moved to the center of campus. But nobody’s gone to Bowling Green to see how they do it.
States are trying to prevent, accelerate or limit remedial education to boost graduation rates. But some say remedial reforms will doom many college students to failure.
Instructors are trying to increase the rigor of developmental classes so students will be prepared to succeed in credit-bearing classes.