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Central New Mexico Community College

Are Too Many Students Being Forced Into Remediation?

20 Comments

A recent story in Education Week delved into some research studies that are pointing to a common conclusion – far too many students are unnecessarily being diverted into remedial classes.

The studies are suggesting that placement-test scores alone are not enough to determine whether a student should be required to take developmental education courses. The story offers some interesting options to supplement placement-test scores, such as looking more closely at high school transcripts or allowing students into credit classes while supporting them with tutoring.

It’s an interesting story on a topic that has gotten a lot of national and statewide attention. Please read the story in Education Week and let’s have a discussion about it.

20 thoughts on “Are Too Many Students Being Forced Into Remediation?

  1. The SAGE Research Group has been studying and looking for ways to help students test out of developmental coursework, running “boot camps” to aid students in brushing up on skills, and designing learning communities to help students with the note-taking and test-taking skills they need while entering their “gateway” courses.

    Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water, painting all developmental or “remedial” courses with the same brush. Many of our students don’t have the requisite skills to succeed in those courses without help. Let’s work together to design and employ strategies so students can get into their major coursework WITH the skills necessary for success!

    • I just want to make sure we are not heading down the wrong path here – nobody is suggesting we throw out the baby or the bathwater at CNM. We do, however, need to have the courage to join in this important conversation and I agree that the conversation needs to be unpacked in a way that allows us to address all the complexity of the developmental issue.

  2. I agree with Robin but would add that this article—and the growing body of research it references — underscores how important it is that SAGE is actively assessing CNM’s current approaches to remedial strategies.

    Research in this area strongly hints that common approaches to remedial education may be producing outcomes in general that are simply insufficient to outweigh their considerable negatives in terms of discouraging student persistence. But the Education Week story points to one very specific problem: the significant misidentification of students as unprepared for college-level work by standardized tests such as Accuplacer and Compass.

    This means that even if CNM is doing developmental education just right, it may often be delivering remediation to the wrong students!

    If the research is yielding good data — and there is no reason to suppose it is not — we may be wasting resources on poorly-targeted individuals. Worse, we may be actively discouraging student persistence by corralling almost-prepared-students with the far-from-prepared-students.

    Remedial education is costly for the institution, but is especially so for the student. Students placed on a developmental track may wind up seriously depleting their available economic resources … or, worse yet, entirely consuming the “years” a given student is willing or able to devote to postsecondary education.

    Clearly then, we do need to reexamine and validate our methods for identifying at-need individuals. It would be unacceptably ironic if CNM’s laudable commitment to fully preparing students for success had the opposite effect.

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  4. I think placement is always a problem, and there’s no easy answer. Some students place into developmental work and don’t need it, while others would benefit greatly but test out. Having a wider range of offerings–short-term and intensive courses, first-year experience opportunities, and learning communities–proves to be a good approach. But the low graduation rates that we see nationally make it hard too accept the theory that developmental programs are serving too many students. On the contrary, it suggests to me that too many students aren’t getting enough of those fundamentals to succeed later on.

  5. Accurate placement is the core issue when determining whether some students enroll in developmental education courses needlessly. Before I address placement though, I urge everyone to keep the role of developmental education in perspective. It is not a funnel; it is a ladder into college. It provides access and opportunity for many, many New Mexicans who would otherwise never attempt college, who would not be accepted into college, or who would struggle to succeed in college.

    Although I don’t want to turn this post into a debate about current research, developmental education is currently being publically vilified, and I do argue that there are plenty of reasons to question data and how it is being interpreted and used. Every news article demonizing developmental education as the cause of student failure cites the same three studies over and over. Policy makers read the headlines, the abstracts, and the summaries, but not necessarily the details. Furthermore, these three studies have been refuted and their merits are being hotly debated. I am just preparing to leave the National Association of Developmental Education conference, where I learned more about multiple perspectives that are not being heard because they are being drowned out by a small group of powerful organizations.

    It is true that many students who required DE do not persist or complete a program. But are we really ready to assume that students who are radically underprepared for college are going to fare any better in Gateway courses if they skip Developmental Education? Developmental education may not be adequate for severely underprepared students who do not finish college, but it turns out to be essential for those who did need it and were able to attain a certificate or degree. If you want to compare costs, look at the local social and economic impact of even fewer New Mexicans enrolling in and completing college. Compare the cost of paying for a developmental course to the cost of a student failing a gateway course into their program. Until the effects of the Core Common Standards movement trickle up to higher education, we are obligated to keep offering needed services.

    In SAGE, of course we continually evaluate our programs and their effectiveness. We track the next level data of our students and make changes when warranted. We are currently exploring and implementing some broader changes to support students as they transition to college level classes. And, we really, really do not want students in our classes who don’t belong there and who are ready for college level.

    To address the important problem of misplacement, we are operating skills “boot camps” as Robin mentioned, likely to be the most effective for students just below the cut-off score. Additionally, the SAGE Research Team is making preparations to recommend a key revision to the CNM web pages that are intended to inform students about the Accuplacer. As mentioned in the Education Week article, the importance of this test needs to be strongly emphasized, and the links to Accuplacer preparation more apparent and visible. Students who end up in developmental courses unnecessarily may not have realized the consequences of a poor test performance. Perhaps they were rushed because they didn’t know how long the test would take and had to go to work. Perhaps a few hours spent taking a practice test and reviewing skills would improve their scores enough to test into college level. We must take action to ensure that students are fully informed and ready to perform to their best level on the placement test. Also, the argument for looking at multiple measures is compelling. There may be other indicators of college readiness that we should take into account. I encourage faculty from all departments and disciplines at CNM to participate in a discussion about what indicators they believe determine college readiness.

    So, to answer Kathy’s question, there are students who enroll in developmental education unnecessarily, and we can and should take steps to establish more accurate placement methods. I look forward to engaging with others across the college to ensure the best possible college entry and outcomes for our students.

  6. As a student I tested into math 0930. Being in that class made me feel like a genius! I missed 1 and 1/2 questions out of the entire course, and it bothered me a little bit that I got the same grade as the students who missed 30 percent of their work. I know that a lot of students do need this coursework…by the end of the class I think we had dropped from over twenty students to somewhere around five or six. No one ever told me that I could retest for a higher score, which I think would have been helpful. I had tested out of eng 1101, so perhaps that would have been a red flag that I may be a candidate for retesting…It had been fifteen years since my last math class after all. The other thing to look at with the placement scores is the fact that many students are placed into a course above the level they can maintain, especially for their first time back. Take the drop rate from the class I listed, around 75 percent drop, and the teacher was really excellent! Just some things to think about from a student perspective.

  7. Your situation is an example of why this topic of conversation is so important to all of us at CNM.

  8. I don’t agree that there are “too many” students being “forced” into remedial courses. Yes, there are accuracy issues with the placement testing; but in the courses I have been teaching, I see most students do need the skills and I don’t see them wasting their time and energy learning the content of my courses. There are always a few students who probably can benefit from a shorter, intensive remedial course rather than have to stay in the course for an entire semester. I think that SAGE should offer more short-term, intensive remedial courses to serve that group of students.

    I have recently been reading about “block scheduling. ” One possibility of implementing block scheduling at SAGE would be: students will enroll in three to four courses per semester but attend a single course for four weeks. That way, the student can concentrate only on one area at a time. As the student completes remediation in reading, he/she would then move on to writing and finally then complete the remedial math needs. This block approach can avoid the problem of students juggling multiple subjects at the same time and potentially increase student success rate. This approach could also allow students to exit developmental education faster. Again, this intensive approach will not work for all students, but can benefit a certain group of students.

  9. Are too many students being forced into remediation?

    This question suggests that students who take development courses are being forced there against their will. As a veteran instructor, with 15 years of teaching developmental math courses at TVI/CNM, I can tell you that, for the most part, this isn’t the case.

    Am I saying that ALL of my students actually need remediation? No. It is my observation that between 5 and 10% of my students tend to be misplaced; they could easily survive in the next class. I give a diagnostic test on the first day of class; I speak to the students who I think are placed too low about moving up to the next class. I have never been able to convince any student to move up. I don’t know if it is lack of confidence, or the fact that they know they would have to work harder in the next class.

    One thing we could do to help students place into the correct class, is to have them brush up for the Accuplacer before they take it. Some colleges are now requiring students to do something to prepare for the Accuplacer, prior to actually taking the test. Students have no idea how “high stakes” this placement test is. Unfortunately, our system is set up in such a way that students don’t speak to an advisor who could stress this, until after they have taken Accuplacer. We have to find ways to impress upon students that financial aid is finite, and that starting in the higher course numbers actually increases their chance of completing a degree or certificate. This term, one of my former students who earned 100% in Math 0930 and the following semester earned nearly 100% in Math 0940 is taking Math 0950! He is doing this not because he didn’t understand the sequence, he is doing this because he took one term off and he thought he needed the review. Over the Christmas break, I gave this student the URL of a website and suggested to him that he practice for just 2 hours, and then sign up for Math 1310. Instead, he is taking Math 0950. This is such a terrible waste. If our best students are moving this slowly, what hope is there for our average students?

    One of the best things to happen to Developmental Math in recent years here at CNM, is the SPACE (self-paced, accelerated, computer enhanced) Math 0930 class. Students are offered the chance to complete Math 0930 and 0940 in one semester. This delivery method has been around for a couple of years, with modest success so far. It is my hope that the percentage of students who can complete both classes in one term will increase now that the schedule clearly lists (on the on-line schedule) which sections are SPACE sections and hopefully, those students who WANT to accelerate will get into the SPACE sections.

    In SAGE, we are exploring many different strategies to help our students get to their gateway courses. Faculty and administration understand the seriousness of the problem. We want our students to succeed and we are working very hard to balance the best experience we can give students with the need for expediency.

  10. I don’t know the answer to the bigger question. Students are frequently entered into courses where they are over or under prepared, relative to the the course content and their peers, and this creates difficulties. I agree with the point Nancee made that it is costly for students to take a course to brush up, when they could brush up on their own, before taking the placement test. CNM students who are motivated and confident enough to brush up for placement tests can use online self-paced tutorials and self-testing materials provided by Learning Express Library in the CNM Libraries databases. http://www.learnatest.com/LEL/index.cfm/?HR=http://planet.cnm.edu/library. Students can register themselves to create an account, follow the tutorials and practice exercises, take the online tests, receive their scores and be informed of which questions they missed.

    The vast majority of students will not find this resource on their own without help, so it might be helpful for faculty and advisors to know that it exists, where to access it, and what it provides so that they can inform students about this free resource, which is accessible from on or off campus. To navigate to Learning Express, go to the CNM Libraries website, select “individual databases” from the list of resources, go to “education” in the indexed list and open Learning Express Library. There you will see tabs for skills improvement and test preparation. The Accuplacer test preparation sets for math and language skills are easily findable. GED and ESL resources are available here, too.

    This is not “the answer” to the problem, but it is a useful resource.
    Perhaps if more students knew about this, more could enter the courses where they would find the best fit.

  11. I am extremely proud of SAGE faculty for the work they are doing to research and implement ways to increase student success. This is hard work that requires letting go of some of the past and being courageous about the future. Three focus groups (Research, Data and Employability) have formed to work on our operational plan for developmental reform, and they produced valuable information to move SAGE forward. As others have stated, it’s very easy to focus on the negative and point fingers. Instead, I urge policy and lawmakers to visit developmental education classes and experience the magic that our faculty members create every day. I have been inspired by their patience, resourcefulness, caring, and professionalism in dealing with a range of student issues, many having nothing to do with academic ability. Who else will provide this guiding light to our students whether they stay for one term or many?

  12. The CNM chronicle did a story on this back at the begining og the spring term so I was wondering if anybody reads the college paper because this news broke before march and should have been disscussed sooner

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  17. The CNM chronicle did a story on this back at the begining og the spring term so I was wondering if anybody reads the college paper because this news broke before march and should have been disscussed sooner

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