A Crisis of Unprepared Freshmen

Shakira Lockett was a pretty good student in elementary, middle and high school. The Miami-Dade County native says she typically earned AS and BS in English classes.

Math was always something of a struggle for Lockett. Still, she got through her high school exit exam with a passing grade and went on to graduate from Coral Gables Senior High School in 2008.

She went straight to Miami Dade College. Then, something unexpected happened: She flunked the college placement exams in all three subjects – reading, writing and math. That didn’t mean she couldn’t attend the school; all state and community colleges in Florida have an open-door policy, which means everyone is accepted. But it did mean she had to take remedial courses before she could start college-level work.

“When they told me I had to start a Reading 2 and Reading 3 class, I was like, ‘Serious?’” Lockett said. “Because I’ve always been good at reading.”

Lockett, who is now 22, spent a year-and-a half taking remedial classes before she could start her first college-level class to count toward her degree in mass communication and journalism. The seven extra courses cost her $300 each.

Lockett found having to take remedial classes discouraging. “It makes you feel dumb,” Lockett said. “And you ask yourself, ‘Is there something wrong with me?’” (Read more.)

Via Sarah Gonzalez, McNelly Torres and Lynn Weddell, FCIR.

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Gates, MOOCs and Remediation

Early returns show that massive open online courses (MOOCs) work best for motivated and academically prepared students. But could high-quality MOOCs benefit a broader range of learners, like those who get tripped up by remedial classes?

That’s the question the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wants to answer with a newly announced round of 10 grants for the creation of MOOCs for remedial coursework.

“We’re trying to seed the conversation and seed the experimentation,” said Josh Jarrett, the foundation’s deputy director for education and postsecondary education.

MOOCs tend to provoke strong feelings in the academy, and in the wake of Gates’s announcement this week, some observers questioned whether free, widely available online courses could be tailored to students with remedial needs. But others, including experts on developmental learning, welcomed the attempt to tackle one of higher education’s most vexing problems.

“This has the potential for raising the quality of instruction in developmental education, if used properly,” said Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education.

The foundation seeks applications for MOOCs with content that focuses on a “high-enrollment, low-success introductory level course that is a barrier to success for many students, particularly low-income, first-generation students.”

That’s a tall order, said Amy Slaton, an associate professor of history at Drexel University. MOOCs are about economies of scale, she said, which are not compatible with the personalized support remedial students typically require to succeed. Doing high-touch teaching on the cheap “doesn’t work in the real world,” said Slaton, an expert on technical education and workforce issues. “When you spend more, more kids learn.” (Read more.)

Via Paul Fain, Inside Higher Ed.

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Struggling for Students’ Readiness

The majority of Texas students do not leave public schools prepared for college.

Fewer than one in two students met the state’s “college readiness” standards in math and verbal skills on ACT, SAT and TAKS scores in 2010. Though average SAT scores in both verbal and math dropped between 2007 and 2010 — a trend that state education officials have attributed to an increase in students taking the test — more students in the same period of time have met the state’s standards for college-ready graduates, largely because of improvements on their state standardized tests and the ACT.

But that increase is only a slim silver lining in what appears to be a large storm cloud.

“It’s still pathetic,” Dominic Chavez, a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board spokesman, said of the ACT scores. “It’s still a very low number, and nobody is satisfied with it.”

Getting to a number that is satisfying is a task that policy makers, educators and the business community have grappled with for years. And although the current data show that something is not going right, pinpointing why is difficult. Part of the trouble is that while it is easy to define what skills students need to be successful in college, so far the measures used to assess the ways they lack those skills have returned an incomplete picture.

Debates over lagging performance at community colleges and four-year institutions can devolve into finger-pointing between the higher education and K-12 camps, each blaming the other for students’ poor performance at the postsecondary level. (Read more.)

Via Morgan Smith, The New York Times.

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Better Gauges of College Readiness May Be Key to Improving Graduation Rates

College placement tests are receiving new scrutiny these days as community colleges come under increasing pressure to graduate more students.

Placement tests are used to determine how well-prepared students are for the rigor of college-level courses. Students who do poorly on the tests are usually placed in developmental, or remedial, education. In fact, about 60 percent of high-school graduates who enroll at two-year colleges have to take remedial courses. But a rash of recent studies has started to cast a doubt on the effectiveness of placement tests and their role in higher education.

“Where to Begin? The Evolving Role of Placement Exams for Students Starting College,” released Tuesday by Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit organization that studies education and work-force issues, explores how institutions and even states are grappling with this issue and the decisions they are making to ensure that their students graduate.

The report highlights emerging research that has begun to challenge long-held notions about how well placement tests work in determining college readiness. One of the more striking revelations in the report is research from the Community College Research Center that found that the grades high-school students earn is a better predictor of how well they will do in college than the scores they receive on a placement test.

“Up to one-third of students were found to be ‘severely misassigned’ using placement-test results, and that error rate could be reduced in half by using high-school grades instead of test scores,” the report says of the research center’s findings.

The report also highlights research that shows “that students who are placed into developmental classes have a very low likelihood of ever completing college.”

Such findings are of concern because it makes the task of graduating more students that much harder. (Read more.)

Via Jennifer González, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.

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Texas Completes Ready For Next Phase of Completion Plan

​A group of five community colleges in Texas will soon start implementing a statewide student success and credential completion effort called Texas Completes.

The group last week announced its initial action plan and strategy to improve the Texas community college completion rate based on findings from its first year. It will focus on implementing the following initiatives as a first step in the effort to create a unified student pathway to success:

  • Revise the curriculum to quickly get students into programs of study, streamline time to degree and facilitate transfer to four-year institutions.
  • Create a comprehensive student advising and management system that ensures students a strong start and consistent feedback along each step of their way through college.
  • Restructure developmental education to reduce time spent in pre-collegiate coursework.

With its planning phase funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation under the former initiative Texas Completion by Design, the new Texas Completes initiative will move ahead with the financial support of state and regional funders. (Other two-year colleges selected to participate in the national Completion by Design program are in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio.)

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