Here’s How States Are Removing Barriers in Dev Ed

Postsecondary & Workforce

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This guest post comes from Elizabeth Ganga, a communications specialist at the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University. CCRC leads the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR), in partnership with the social policy research organization, MDRC.

In response to years of research showing that traditional developmental education often does more harm than good, many colleges are reforming their developmental programs to allow more students to take college-level courses sooner and reduce other obstacles to earning a degree.

For example, more than half of colleges (57 percent in math and 51 percent in reading) are moving away from the use of a single standardized placement test — the traditional means of deciding who should take remedial courses — according to a new national survey from CAPR. Instead, colleges are using other measures of students’ likelihood of success in college-level courses, including high school GPA, highest math course completed and SAT scores.

Colleges are also finding ways to speed students’ progress through developmental courses, so they aren’t required to take several semesters of non-credit courses before they can take their math and English requirements. Some colleges are combining reading and writing remediation into one course or compressing courses in other ways. Many are allowing developmental students to enroll directly in a college-level course and providing a parallel developmental support course, called corequisite remediation. In math, fewer students are being required to take algebra to graduate and instead are enrolling in statistics or other math courses more relevant to their field.

For policymakers interested in learning more about developmental education reforms, this primer explains the problems with the traditional model, potential solutions and examples of what states and systems are doing. It discusses the concept of multiple measures placement, various approaches to shortening developmental sequences and ideas for integrating developmental education reform into broader college reform efforts.

CAPR’s research, which is continuing and will be completed in 2019, will also provide evidence about whether these approaches help more students complete developmental education and earn a credential. In addition to the survey, CAPR is carrying out studies on multiple measures placement and math pathways (which align math requirements with different majors, so students are taking math courses that are most relevant to their future careers).

The studies use rigorous random assignment designs, which allows CAPR to separate the effect of the reforms from other factors. Early findings show that the reforms are making a difference — saving students time and money and increasing their chances of success.

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