High School Grades Not Predicting Need for Remediation in Community College Students, Reveals New Report

Posted By Eliana Osborn on April 25, 2016 at 2:51 pm
High School Grades Not Predicting Need for Remediation in Community College Students, Reveals New Report

North Carolina is considering a pipeline to get underprepared students to college by having them start at community college, then move on to four-year schools. They’re just one of many states struggling with incoming freshmen who test too low on placement measures for credit-bearing classes. These remedial level classes may boost student skills but there are serious drawbacks as well, including the long road to graduation when an extra year is tacked on to the beginning of your education.

A new report from the CCCSE, Center for Community College Student Engagement, sheds light on just how many community college students require remediation. Expectations meet Reality examines what many call ‘developmental’ level classes—those needed to get students to the level where they can succeed in traditional college classes. More and more students are getting to college without basic proficiency in math, reading or writing skills. The idea of developmental or remedial courses is to build competency before a student can move on to general education or major specific classes.

86% of incoming community college students feel prepared, according to a 2014 survey. When you look at high school grades, they don’t seem to match up to college readiness. Those with very high GPAs, over 3.5, still have 40% of the students requiring developmental classes. This may account for part of the discrepancy between what they expect for educational success and what happens. Most incoming freshmen (61%) plan to graduate in two years, and 76% feel they are on track to meet this goal. Real life graduation numbers for community colleges are dramatically lower, with just 29% getting an associate’s degree or similar within six years.

Research has not shown developmental pathways to be very effective; attempts at tutoring or co-requisite classes are underway to try to improve completion and graduation rates for these students. As the CCCSE report states, “Longitudinal tracking of student progression through developmental courses has called attention to dismal results,” requiring a ‘revolution’ in how remediation is handled.

68% of community college students require some level of remediation. There is plenty of blame to go around for this situation, but highlighting the issues of high school curriculum doesn’t do anything to change things for today’s students. The majority of these remedial students agree that they need extra help; between 60 and 70% believe they have been accurately assessed.

Expectations meet Reality highlights some of the innovations in developmental class delivery. Accelerated classes, like a skills boot camp, have found success. Better placement tests, combining remedial classes with workplace skills, and using computer technology for personalized learning are all methods different schools are using. CCCSE serves as a resource for community colleges to see what is being done on different campuses, backed up by data as well as anecdotal evidence. “There is a disconnect between current practice and emerging strategies that show promise, but there is no silver bullet,” notes the report, acknowledging that remedial education is one of the significant issues of this time in our schools.

Some simple strategies may help with developmental programs. Giving students time and resources to study before placement tests, for example, can improve the accuracy of these measures. Increasing access to advisors and counselors will make more learners understand the necessary steps to stay on track to earn a degree. Case studies of many different schools are included in the CCCSE report, showing how diverse community colleges have revitalized their remediation programs.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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