Changing the placement, parameters of remedial education


According to the California Acceleration Project (CAP), 80 percent of community college students are required to take remedial courses based on standardized tests, which can delay student progress and make them less likely to earn a degree.

The faculty-led development network of CAP is working to change these statistics by partnering with community colleges and transforming remediation requirements in order to increase student equity and completion.

“We knew from our own classes is that students that were placed in remedial classes were actually very capable of completing college courses,” said Katie Hern, an English teacher at Chabot College who co-founded CAP with her friend and Los Medanos College teacher Myra Snell.  “We both had experience teaching accelerated remedial classes and could see how much better the results were with those students.”

The organization began partnering with community colleges throughout the state, including College of the Canyons (COC), to enable students to bypass remediation and begin college-level courses by implementing co-requisite models of remediation and using different criteria, like high school GPAs, for placement.

“COC was in the first cohort that worked with us in 2011,” Hern said.  “What they did at that time was create an accelerated statistics course and then an accelerated English course.  This year is the first time that they implemented high school transcript measures in math.”

My making this change, CAP believes they can end the “biggest barrier” to student completion.

“If we can transform the way we approach our incoming students and help them get into college-level course right off the bat the more students will complete their degrees on time,” Hern said.

Latest Report

To exhibit this impact in student success, CAP spent the past year conducting interviews and gathering data from six community colleges for its latest report, “Up to the Challenge: Community Colleges Expand Access to College-Level Courses.”

The report found that standardized placement tests are a weak predictor of students’ performance in college.  Of the 170,000 students enrolled in California Community College remedial math courses, 140,000 students, or 82 percent, never complete the math courses required for their degrees.

“Students that start in the remedial level statewide have a less than 10 percent chance of completing this course [statistics] and completing their degree,” Hern said.

The report found that community colleges who allow students to enroll directly in college-level math and English, based on high schools grades or with additional support from an instructor, saw significant increases in student completion and transfer rates.

At COC, only 15 percent of students were eligible for college level math based on standardized tests and only 4 percent of students completed a transferable college math course in two years.

After shifting its approach to placement by using different criteria, 71 percent of students became eligible for college-level statistics and 30 percent became eligible for other transferable math courses.

The school’s rate of completion for college-level math also increased from 13 percent to 63 percent.

COC student Andrés Salazar was one of the students who benefitted from the change in approach to remediation.

If COC had not changed its policies, Salazar would have had to take basic arithmetic with two years of remediation before beginning college statistics.  With the change, he was able to begin the college-level statistics course right away because of his high school GPA.

“It allowed me to transfer to a university two years faster than if I had to take all the classes leading up to college applicable math,” said Salazar, who is attending California Institute of the Arts in the fall to study piano and conducting.  “It took a lot of stress off of me as well because remedial classes are really hard to get into.”

Impending Legislation

New California legislation, Assembly Bill 705 or “Seymour-Campbell Student Success Act of 2012,” will require colleges to use students’ high school grades to make more accurate placement decisions.

The legislation would also provide co-requisite report at colleges and give students a chance to complete remedial courses within a year.

On Tuesday, the State Assembly Committee on Higher Education passed a new legislation through its offices following a public hearing.

Both CAP and Salazar spoke at the hearing in support of AB 705.

“AB 705 still retains a lot of local autonomy, but it sets some parameters for protections for student rights,” Hern said.  “It’s setting parameters to protect students’ rights while still giving colleges a lot of autonomy in designing co-requisites or looking at data and tailoring courses to maximize their student completion.”

Salazar said the opportunity to watch the legislature review bills was “fascinating and enlightening” and hopes the bill passes so other students have the same opportunity he did.

“I hope that every future college student is given the same opportunity I was given,” Salazar said.  “Every student should have a chance to move on to a four-year institution as quickly as possible.”

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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