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States setting mandates on developmental ed

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​Development education is going to get a lot more attention from state lawmakersover the next few years, according to an official from the Education Commission of the States (ECS), which tracks state policy trends.

As legislatures work through revamping K-12 policies, the next step will be to address developmental education in higher education, which mainly bridges the gap between high school and college-level work, said Matt Gianneschi, vice president of policy and programs at ECS.

According to Gianneschi, the trend is an outgrowth of the Common Core, a set of educational standards adopted by 44 states aimed at ensuring high school graduates are ready for college and careers. In 2015, the first round of career-ready benchmarks will be issued, and for the first time, there will be “a common entry point and a common exit point,” Gianneschi said, which is “creating tension between K-12 and higher education” and causing anxiety among legislators.

“This is now your issue,” he told community college leaders this month at the annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges. “Early evidence indicates there won’t be more college-ready students; there will be fewer.”

As a result, there will be more pressure to provide skills-based education and data showing that graduates have attained jobs in their field.

“The black box is starting to become more transparent,” he said.

Meanwhile, the completion challenge — calling for the college degree attainment rate to increase from 40 percent of the U.S. population to 60 percent by 2020 — is also raising the stakes for community colleges.

A different approach

All this is leading to a big shift in how remedial education is viewed. Several years ago, the focus was on improving K-12 education to reduce the number of incoming college students who need developmental education, Gianneschi said. Now the focus has shifted to how well colleges are handling those students and the extent to which students are completing remedial education courses, moving on to credit-bearing courses and, ultimately, graduating, he said. And there’s a push to identify — and eliminate — the barriers that are preventing students from moving beyond developmental education.

Instead of letting higher education figure it out, some states are taking a more direct approach, Gianneschi said. Connecticut, for example, enacted legislation calling for college students who need limited remediation to be placed in accelerated “co-requisite” (concurrent developmental and college-level) courses. The measure also limits remediation to one semester of intensive pre-collegiate work.

In Colorado, a new law allows the use of multiple measures of readiness and also authorizes two- and four-year institutions to offer co-requisite courses for certain populations of students. The legislature directed the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to align its remedial education policy with the state’s higher education admissions requirements.

Florida has taken the most extreme approach, Gianneschi said. Its new law allows high school graduates and members of the military to bypass additional assessments and be placed directly into credit-bearing courses. If Florida students want to opt into remedial courses, they are given a list of instructional approaches to select, including co-requisite, modularized, compressed and contextualized courses.

Promote success

The general goal of these new state policies is to push students into regular education courses, rather than keep them out. That’s important because only one in 10 remedial students will eventually graduate, said Stan Jones of Complete College America, a nonprofit group focused on increasing degree attainment, especially among minorities.

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About 60 percent of recent high school graduates end up in remediation, including large numbers of African-Americans and Hispanics.

“For too many of them, remediation is their first college experience and their last college experience,” Jones said.

Math is the most troublesome subject for remedial students, and according to Achieving the Dream, 70 percent of college applicants who place into remedial math don’t even enroll. In Texas, only 15 percent of those who started in remedial math completed a college-level math course within three years.

Complete College America’s strategy is to look at remediation and placement testing differently — to find a way to help struggling students succeed and graduate, rather than put up barriers.

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Jones recommends more time on task and extra help for students when they need it. He also says co-requisite remedial courses are more effective than prerequisites.

There are different models for co-requisites, such as having students spend an extra 45 minutes with the instructor after class, a required lab with mentors, additional class periods, five weeks of development education followed by 10 weeks of a regular course, and stretching a regular course over two semesters.

According to Jones, the Community College of Baltimore County had a 74 percent success rate with a one-semester accelerated learning co-requisite model, compared with a 33 percent success rate with traditional remediation.

Fix it, don’t nix it

Hunter Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, agreed that stand-alone remedial courses haven’t worked very well at most community colleges, but he disputes the contention that “all remedial education is broken.”

“We have more than three decades of research on how to do effective course-based remediation,” Boylan said. “Fixing remedial courses is less costly and less labor-intensive than starting all over. We already have the infrastructure in place. We don’t use that infrastructure systematically so it’s connected to student success.”

If states are going to enact mandates on remediation, he said, “there are ways to do this wisely,” based on the following principles:

  • First identify baseline performance to help determine whether the new approach is successful.
  • Develop an evaluation plan early.
  • Pilot innovations to work the bugs out before implementing them across a whole college or state.
  • Allow for local flexibility in implementation, because what works on one campus might not work at another.
  • Provide professional development to help faculty implement mandates.
  • Involve those who will be implementing the mandates in the planning process.
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