Colorado Moves Ahead in Reforming Remediation to Increase Completion Rates

May 16, 2012 by

Colorado thrust itself into the forefront of developmental education reform with the passage of new legislation that embraces current research and practice on how to increase the college attainment rate of students who have traditionally been placed into remediation.

House Bill 1155, sponsored by Rep. Tom Massey, the chair of the House Education Committee, includes the following provisions related to remedial education:

  • Multiple measures for remedial placement
  • Differentiated math requirements
  • Supplemental academic instruction.

The individual components of the bill are finding support from emerging research and, collectively, they could go a long way to improve the success of remedial students.

Multiple Measures for Remedial Placement

According to recent research, the common approach of placing students into courses based on a single exam and a single cut score is proving to be inadequate, and it often relegates students to one or more semesters of developmental education that they do not need. In response, there is a growing recognition that multiple and more precise measures should be used to determine students’ readiness for college-level work and the most appropriate interventions to address their skill deficits. A recent GPG policy brief on assessment and placement, however, found that only a handful of states even attempt to incorporate multiple measures into course-placement decisions.

One goal of H.B. 1155 is to align the state’s policies for admissions at four-year institutions and remedial education. The legislation revises current statute and directs institutions to consider multiple measures for admission that may include high school grade-point average, class rank, and the rigor and content of academic courses, as well as national assessment scores. Insofar as the policy alignment occurs, the door is opened for campuses to take into account these measures – along with the approved placement assessment results – when determining whether students need remediation or some form of additional support to succeed in college-level courses.

Differentiated Math Requirement

The differentiated math approach recognizes that the traditional sequence of math courses designed around algebra and calculus proficiency may not be necessary for all students and may set up hurdles in their progression toward a degree. For students in non-STEM fields, developing other math skills, such as statistics, might be sufficient and more appropriate. These students could avoid remediation all together or spend less time in such courses if they have to demonstrate the math skills that are more aligned with their chosen program of study.

The most prominent example of the differentiated math approach is the New Mathways Project,  directed by the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Earlier this month, officials from Texas’ community colleges endorsed the Mathways system as part of an effort to redesign remedial math. In a similar vein, Tennessee institutions have created remedial course exit points for STEM and non-STEM students based on a common set of competencies.

Supplemental Academic Instruction

Supplemental instruction, which also is known as the co-requisite model, allows students who fall just below the cut score on placement exams to enroll immediately in credit-bearing courses while receiving support, whether through additional class work, tutoring, or other services. The approach saves students time and money by enabling them to complete remediation and their college-level courses in the same semester. Further, four-year colleges that do not offer remediation can provide underprepared students with the extra support they need to be successful in college-level classes.

Early results from a couple co-requisite initiatives have shown that students are passing their college-level courses at significantly higher rates than their peers who were placed in remedial classes. Students participating in the Accelerated Learning Project at the Community College of Baltimore County enroll concurrently in remedial English and college-level English composition. In Tennessee, Austin Peay State University’s Structured Assistance Program eliminated the two remedial math courses and moved students directly into one of two credit-bearing math courses. In addition, Complete College America is urging its 30 member states to adopt co-requisite models to help remedy some of problems with the current system of providing remediation.

Research and practical experience are highlighting many of the reasons why the standard approaches for remedial placement and instruction are not benefiting students. Fortunately, states like Colorado are paying attention. If implemented broadly and successfully, H.B. 1155 offers Colorado’s postsecondary institutions the opportunity to get ahead of the curve in pursuing innovative policies and practices that help underprepared students move toward degree completion.

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