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By Paul Bradley  /  
2016 February 29 - 10:39 am

New Attention, Old Problem

Advocates Urge Expansion of Remediation Solutions

When it comes to boosting the success of community college students who arrive on campus unprepared for college-level work, colleges around the country are seeing positive results from a variety of innovations.

For example:

• At Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, most students need not take a highstakes placement test to assess their college readiness. Instead, they can submit results of an ACT or SAT college placement test, or even a high school transcript, provided their GPA is 2.6 GPA or better. The approach is working; analysis shows that first-time, degree-seeking students placed using alternative measures passed their first collegelevel “gateway” course at greater rates than did students placed using the ACCUPLAC- ER placement test.

• In Tennessee, Chattanooga State Community College’s SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support) program delivers remedial mathematics courses to seniors in high School. The goal of the program is to work with high schools to get more students college-ready before they graduate. The program is working; 91 percent of the students who completed the program were deemed ready to take college-level math without having to take a placement test.

• Under Washington state’s I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) program, basic skills students take college-level classes co-taught by basic skills instructors and professional technical faculty. The so-called corequisite model helps students build academic skills and English language proficiency, advance more quickly toward earning a credential while developing workplace skills.

These and other examples are contained in two recent reports issued by leading community college advocates striving anew to focus attention on an old and persistent challenge: helping the huge number of students who arrive on campus without the skills needed to take a credit-bearing course, let alone succeed in college and earn a degree.

The reports — one issued jointly by the American Association of Community Colleges, the Association of Community College Trustees and Higher Ed for Higher Standards, the second by the Center for Community College Student Engagement — represent an urgent call to action for the two-year sector to reduce the need for remediation, which remains a critical barrier to student success.

The examples cited in the reports are solid evidence that new and different approaches can yield solid results. But there is a huge disconnect between current practices and new, promising strategies, said Evelyn Waiwaiole, director of the CCSSE. Only a tiny fraction of students are being touched by new and innovative programs.

“There are a lot of good practices out there,” she said. “But they are just not happening at scale. You hear a lot about good things that are happening around the country, but you don’t see it at scale.”

The CCSEE report, titled “Expectations Meet Reality: The Underprepared Student and Community Colleges,” is based on surveys of 70,000 community college student students across 150 institutions and more than 4,500 community college faculty respondents from 56 institutions. It documents a yawning disconnect between the perceptions of students and their reality on campus.

For example, the report says, while some colleges and the larger community college field are making strides in redesigning placement practices by modifying or restricting the use of placement tests, the reality is that 87 percent of students report being required to take a placement test to assess their skills.

In addition, 86 percent of students of the students surveyed professed the belief that they are academically prepared to succeed in college. In reality, 67 percent of the students tested into developmental coursework, including 40 percent of students who selfreported a high school GPA of A.

“This is a reality check,” Waiwaiole said. “The report describes what is. And the innovative work featured in the report describes where we can be.”

The report issued by ACCT, AACC and Higher Ed for Higher Standards says that being placed into a developmental class is a ticket to educational failure for the vast majority of community college students, despite efforts to help them.

“A study using national data found that 58 percent of recent high school graduates who entered community colleges took at least one developmental course,” the report says. “Only about one-quarter of these students (28 percent) went on to earn any degree or certificate within 8.5 years. In some of our institutions, the need for remediation is much higher and the success rates much lower. Despite efforts to support them, most underprepared students will not complete a degree. In a recent national study, of the students who needed remedial education courses as freshmen, fewer than one out of 10 graduated with a postsecondary credential.”

Said Matt Gandal, the organizer of Higher Ed for Higher Standards, a coalition of college presidents working to improve student success: “We have a preparation gap in this country that’s leaving too many young people unprepared when they arrive in community colleges. Community colleges have an opportunity to close this gap by working together with their K-12 counterparts to adopt proven strategies that are getting real results for students.”

Essential to improving remedial education are closer ties between community colleges and the K-12 sector, said J. Noah Brown, ACCT president and CEO. Central to the approach is making better use of high school assessments, he said.

Most states now administer college- and career-ready assessments in high school, but very few use the results to trigger supports and interventions before students graduate. Because the assessments are generally administered in 11th grade, the information they reveal about students’ knowledge and skills provides an opportunity for community colleges to work with high schools to make the most of 12th grade.

“One of the great strengths of the American education system — as with the United States as a whole — is its great diversity,” Brown said. “At the same time, we have a responsibility to unify our public high school and community college systems to give students their best chances of success.”

In a statement, AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus said: “AACC and ACCT are extremely proud of the work our member colleges are doing, and it’s time to start finding common ground among the disparate efforts and take conscientious, consistent and official steps to learn from and propagate the best of them.”

The report, titled “Seizing the Moment,” profiles proven programs that effectively advance student success throughout the country. It also makes several recommendations for college presidents and trustees, including:

• Partnering with K-12 to bring more substantial college readiness supports and interventions into high schools;

• Identifying college-readiness measures that can be used in high school to trigger these supports and accelerate strategies for students;

• Revising institutional placement practices to honor college-ready achievements instead of relying on placement tests; Providing first-year students who are not yet college ready with co-requisite and other evidence-based remediation opportunities and guided pathways;

• Working with system leaders and policymakers to adopt statewide policies that encourage and expand successful practices.

Taken together, the two reports underscore the urgency of solving the remediation dilemma and revamping the student experience.

“The bridge between developmental education and student success must be shortened,” Waiwaiole said. “Redesigning the educational pathway for all students needs to be an urgent priority for colleges.”

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