Dev ed reforms grow, but not at scale

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While a growing number of two- and four-year colleges are branching beyond traditional approaches to developmental education, it’s not yet happening at scale, according to a new study.

Many colleges continue to use standardized tests to assess college readiness as well as prerequisite developmental courses that can last several semesters, notes the study by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR), a partnership between MDRC and the Community College Research Center at Columbia University in New York. Nearly 40 percent of surveyed colleges use only one measure to assess students’ skills, and more than 90 percent of these use only standardized assessments, according to CAPR.

However, a growing number of colleges over the past decade are testing news approaches to developmental education. The CAPR survey shows a 30 percentage-point increase in the proportion of colleges using additional measures to assess students’ readiness since 2011. For example, more colleges — especially community colleges — use measures such as high school grades to gauge college readiness, and they are implementing instructional reforms, such as compressing developmental courses into shorter periods and integrating developmental education into for-credit courses, the study says.

However, these efforts are not done on scale, with most reforms to developmental education instruction comprising less than half of a college’s overall developmental education course offerings, the study adds.

Prompting change

Many colleges, systems and states have adopted developmental education reforms in recent years, the study says. For example, 19 states encourage or require colleges to use measures such as grade point averages to assess students’ college readiness in addition to standardized test scores, it says. More than a dozen also recommend or require colleges to enroll students with developmental needs directly into college-level courses, coupled with supports. California, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas were cited as leaders in such changes.

While state policy is encouraging such reforms, there are others factors, particularly faculty input, the study notes.

The study also highlights various reform approaches among math, reading and writing programs, from boot camps, to student success courses and tutors. A greater proportion of community college students who have developmental needs appear to use support services, compared to such students at four-year colleges, CAPR says. For instance, 79 to 80 percent of public two-year colleges report using success courses or success coaches for students with developmental needs in math and reading and writing, compared to 67 and 69 percent of four-year colleges.

The study was supported by a U.S. Education Department grant.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.