5.5.17

NO REMEDIATION STIGMA?

I've long been skeptical of the developmental side of higher education, to the extent that it's enabling high schools to shirk their duties.  Chester Finn weighs in, with a more jaded view.
Observe the new move by CalState to do away with “remediation” upon entry to its institutions and instead to confer degree credit for what used to be the kinds of high-school-level content and skills that one had to master before gaining access to “credit-bearing” college courses.

The new term for these bridge classes for entering college students is “co-requisite” and California isn’t the only place that’s using them. One study at CUNY—dealing with community colleges, not four-year institutions—says greater success was achieved when ill-prepared students were placed in “regular” college classes but given “extra support” than when they were shunted into “remediation.” Perhaps so. Perhaps placement tests aren’t the best way to determine who is actually prepared to succeed in “college-level” work. But that’s not the same as saying—as CalState seems to be saying—that anyone emerging from high school, regardless of what they did or didn’t learn there, deserves entry into “regular” college classes.

That essentially erases the boundary between high school and college, and not in the good way being undertaken by sundry “early college” and “Advanced Placement” courses, the purpose of which is to bring college-level work into high schools. Now we’re seeing high-school-level work being brought into college, there to count for credit toward bachelor’s degrees.
The problem with tracking students into remediation is that they're not as likely to finish, and that makes legislators (there's remediation everywhere, including the Ivies, but the social waste of a floundering public education system concentrates legislative minds) stingy.  Thus, a few years back, Connecticut consolidated administration of its community colleges and changed its approach to remediation.
Let’s say you have 30 students in a section of English 101. 20 of them require some level of remediation, but the levels required range from just-a-brushup to here’s-how-to-write-a-sentence. As near as I can figure, at the end of the 101 meeting, the ten students who don’t need remediation would leave, and the 20 left behind would get some sort of attention.

The instructor would need absolutely heroic range to reach all of those students at appropriate levels. Alternately, if you had multiple sections running simultaneously, the followup classes could be grouped by ability, but at that point in the absence of a lockstep curriculum in 101 you’d have serious discontinuity issues. That would defeat much of the pedagogical gain that could otherwise be realized through just-in-time remediation. Or you could do a lockstep curriculum, but that would likely be pretty demoralizing to the faculty.

Alternately, you could do drop-in remediation and rely on students to know what they need and when they need it. But I’d strongly advise against it. As Kay McClenney likes to say, students don’t do optional; if they aren’t forced into the extra help, they’ll underuse it, and the fail rates will reflect that.
Or perhaps we get to Mr Finn's worst-case scenario, and it's the boundary between college and sixth grade being erased.  But that's the worst-case scenario.  Perhaps tracking damages students' chances.
The highlight of the day, though, was a panel on developmental placement reform, featuring John Hetts, from the CalPASS Plus Educational Results Partnership; Brad Bostian, from Central Piedmont CC in North Carolina; and Nikki Edgecombe, from the CCRC. They presented findings on multi-factor placement in California, North Carolina, and Virginia, respectively, but you almost wouldn’t have known they were talking about different states, given the consistency of the findings.
One point stood out. "Students with a C in a 100-level class are likelier to graduate and transfer than students with a B in a developmental class."  At the time Mr Finn's essay hit the internet, I thought Matt "Dean Dad" Reed had something newer about the successes of enrollment directly into regular classes, but I was not able to locate it.

Perhaps, though, to the extent that colleges and universities don't explicitly offer developmental courses, high-schoolers will be less likely to coast through three or four years, serene in the expectation that they're going to get the thick envelope from somebody, and muddle through somehow.  Incentives matter, kiddies.

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