Colleges Misassign Many to Remedial Classes, Studies Find

Two new studies from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College have found that community colleges unnecessarily place tens of thousands of entering students in remedial classes — and that their placement decisions would be just as good if they relied on high school grade-point averages instead of standardized placement tests.

The studies address one of the most intractable problems of higher education: the dead end of remedial education. At most community colleges, a majority of entering students who recently graduated from high school are placed in remedial classes, where they pay tuition but earn no college credit. Over all, less than a quarter of those who start in remedial classes go on to earn two-year degrees or transfer to four-year colleges.

The studies, one of a large urban community college system and the other of a statewide system, found that more than a quarter of the students assigned to remedial classes based on their test scores could have passed college-level courses with a grade of B or higher.

“We hear a lot about the high rates of failure in college-level classes at community colleges,” said Judith Scott-Clayton, the author of the urban study and a Teachers College professor of economics and education and senior research associate. “Those are very visible. What’s harder to see are the students who could have done well at college level but never got the chance because of these placement tests.”

The colleges’ use of the leading placement tests — the College Board’s Accuplacer and ACT’s Compass — lead to mistakes in both directions, the studies find, but students going into college-level classes they cannot handle is not as serious as unnecessary remedial placement, which often derails college careers.

Although the placement tests have been widely used since the late 1980s, students rarely understand how much is at stake. Typically, students are told that they need not worry about the tests because they are for placement — and very few colleges encourage them to prepare as they would for a college-entrance exam like the SAT. (Read more.)

Via Tamar Lewin, The New York Times.

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Study Shows Developmental Summer Bridge Programs Help

A two year random assignment study of ‘developmental summer bridge’ programs in Texas has found that students enrolled in the programs have an increased chance of passing college level math and writing in their first 18 months of college compared to those who do not attend such bridge programs. The students in the program, who were tested below college level prior to participation, were 7% more likely to pass college level math and 5% more likely to pass college level writing.

The NCPR study is the first to use a random assignment design to provide experimental evidence that these programs contribute to greater success early in students’ college careers, a period when they are most likely to drop out.

The study also found, however, that the effects were not persistent and faded after two years with no effect on credit accumulation. Of additional note is that four to five week bridge programs were not alone sufficient to improve long term student outcomes. Sustained benefits may come from layering such programs with additional interventions.

The study, from the National Center for Postsecondary Research and in collaboration with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, tracked 1300 mostly Hispanic students over two years who participated in summer bridge programs at two four-year and six community colleges in Texas.

The developmental summer bridge programs studied ranged in length from four to five weeks and contained an intensive six hours a day of instruction as well as academic tutoring and college advising.

Colleges across the country have been seeking ways to help students move more quickly out of remediation and into college-level classes: nationally, six out of ten students entering community college need at least one remedial class, and only 28% of these students go on to complete a college degree or credential.

One in eight four year colleges now offer bridge programs showing that these programs have become a popular way of addressing the problem of students not being ready for college. However until this study there had been no rigorous investigation of the effectiveness of developmental summer bridge programs.

The National Center for Postsecondary Research is housed at the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University and operated in collaboration with MDRC, the Curry School of Education at University of Virginia, and a Harvard University professor. It was established in 2006 with a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences. NCPR measures the effectiveness of programs which are designed to help students make the transition to college.

Via Education News.

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Community Colleges Not Up to 21st-Century Mission, Their Own Report Says

Calling the American dream imperiled, the American Association of Community Colleges issued a report on Saturday intended to galvanize college leaders to transform their institutions for the 21st-century needs of students and the economy.

Released here on the opening night of the group’s annual conference, the report acknowledges the sector’s historic growth and success but also argues that even so, far too many community-college students do not graduate. The study also found employment preparation inadequately connected to the needs of the job market, and a need for two-year colleges to work more closely with high schools and baccalaureate institutions.

“As they currently function, community colleges are not up to the task before them,” it says.

The report, “Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future,” is blunt: The colleges must “redesign their institutions, their mission and their students’ educational experiences” to ensure that they meet the needs of a changing society.

Labor experts predict that the job market will demand that more Americans hold postsecondary degrees or certificates.

To help college leaders “recast” their institutions, the report lays out seven recommendations. They include halving by 2020 “the numbers of students entering college unprepared for rigorous college-level work,” and establishing “policies and practices that promote rigor, transparency, and accountability for results in community colleges.”

The document also suggests tactics for carrying out each recommendation. The association plans to create a 21st Century Center that will help two-year colleges achieve their goals by providing them with “strategic planning, leadership development, and research.” (Read more.)

Via Jennifer González, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.

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