Published on 2014/08/25

Standardized Reporting Key to Improving Remedial Education

AUDIO | Standardized Reporting Key to Improving Remedial Education
It’s imperative that states take steps to improve their remedial education data collection to help improve student access and outcomes.

The following interview is with Mary Fulton, a policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States and author of their recent report, “A Cure for Remedial Reporting Chaos,” examining the value of national college preparedness standardization as a mechanism to overcome some of the major issues surrounding remedial college education. In this interview, Fulton discusses some of the recommendations made in the paper and shares her thoughts on the steps needed to improve remedial education in the United States.

1. One of the major critiques facing remedial education — leading it to become voluntary for certain student groups in Florida — is that the courses are expensive and, since they are noncredit, do not directly contribute to degree completion. What’s your perspective on that critique?

It’s true that students spend their tuition dollars on remedial courses that don’t count toward a degree and the problem is actually worse for students who have to take multiple semesters of remediation. While some state programs might allow students to use financial aid dollars to cover remedial courses, federal aid dollars cannot be used for courses that don’t count toward a degree. Sometimes this financial burden can actually delay or even end a student’s college career. Remedial courses aren’t necessarily more expensive than credit-bearing courses, but a lot of policy and education leaders consider them an unnecessary expense because students should have acquired these skills before they arrive on campus.

In response, that’s why we’re seeing a lot of states and postsecondary systems pursuing remedial reforms that accelerate student progress to save them time and money and to improve their chances of earning a degree.

2. In “A Cure for Remedial Reporting Chaos,” one of the recommendations made suggested that states need to develop and implement common metrics for placement into — and success in — remedial education. What would be the impact of this?

Our analysis uncovered the inconsistencies in remedial data that states publicly report. We have some states like Colorado, Nevada and Texas that publish comprehensive reports. They’re annual and they include information on student placement, student characteristics, outcomes and even costs. In these states, the data has helped spur statewide reforms to remedial instruction and they also provide some very valuable information back to high schools regarding their graduates’ needs for [future] education. This has helped reduce remedial rates in the first place.

Some states are at a disadvantage if they don’t provide that comprehensive information. Some don’t even appear to provide information to the public to begin with. You see the difference when you do have this information available, especially on a regular basis, how this can lead to reforms driven, in part at least, by data.

3. The paper also recommended that states create “a dynamic, comprehensive measurement methodology” that focuses on progress and success. What are the problems with the current measurement methodology, which focuses on state-level accountability and comparative rankings?

Along with several experts, we designed a methodology called common framework. [It’s] a more consistent and innovative model to report remedial data which really doesn’t exist today. Most of it is driven by what the state is doing versus a national model. Part of what we’re proposing is giving states a guide they might use to collect and report on remedial education.

The framework is not intended to rank states based on, for example, the number of students identified in remediation or to be used for a blunt accountability instrument. Rather, the framework would allow states to group students by academic performance quartiles and track the progress of all students.

This is essential if we’re going to improve student results. At best, most states might know the number of students assigned to or enrolled in remedial education, but they don’t follow that beyond those points.

4. How is the lack of a nation-wide common approach to remedial education actually harming students?

Part of it is because of the inconsistency in the data that’s reported as well as how we even determine that remediation rate. We don’t really understand the extent of and the nuances of remedial education, we can’t get a sense of some of the strategies that could improve student success nor can we evaluate some of those reforms without some of that better data. [Right now], we can’t have a national conversation about ways to improve student learning.

5. Is there anything at the funding level that states could do to help students trying to access higher education but who don’t have the base level of knowledge needed?

There are some state programs that could allow some support for remedial courses, but the real issue is trying to intervene early. You see some states offering either intervention in high school to try to reduce the remedial rates or summer bridge programs that are completely or partially supported by institutions, systems or states to get the student before they arrive on campus.

We see some other efforts where they’re giving students a greater advanced notice or a couple of tries or some tutoring instead of students just showing up on campus, taking an exam that they maybe didn’t even know about and being placed in remedial courses. Whatever we can do even on that front end to not have students be placed unnecessarily in remediation is going to be a way to save time and money.

This interview has been edited for length.

The ECS published two papers on remedial education that are available for further reading, “A Cure for Remedial Reporting Chaos,” andA Common Framework for Remedial Reporting: Response to Remedial Reporting Task Force Recommendations.

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Key Takeaways

  • The inconsistency of remedial education data across the United States makes it difficult to assess the successes and failings of remedial programming.
  • Colorado, Nevada and Texas are leading the way in terms of having a robust remedial education reporting model that provides insights into where improvements can be made.
  • Sweeping, nationwide improvements to remedial education will improve access to, and success in, postsecondary education.

Readers Comments

Dwayne P. 2014/08/25 at 4:43 pm

I don’t think it’s possible to save remedial education. Students don’t want to pay for it. Profesors don’t like teaching it. Governments don’t like the dropout rate. We need to start finding ways to blend remedial classes into the degree track.

    Rose Han 2014/08/26 at 9:36 am

    I, unfortunately, agree. I hate that the “immediate reward” nature of our society has brought us here, but it’s not all because of society. Tuition is SO EXPENSIVE that the students who have take these courses (often low-income and underprepared) cannot afford to take them.

Parker Emmett 2014/08/26 at 10:55 am

Both the previous commenters are pessimists. I think Fulton’s suggestion is a good one: by following the example of Colorado, Nevada and Texas, states can drive success in their remedial classes and get more students on-path to a degree!

Kimberly Neil 2014/08/26 at 12:35 pm

The lack of comparable data across states is troubling. It’s important to note that remedial students, regardless of where they are in the country, share similar characteristics and needs. Some states are better at addressing them than others. All states would benefit from sharing information on remedial programming to improve outcomes, but this can only be done when they collect similar data that can then be analyzed against the standards developed by the most promising states.

Rohit Singh 2014/08/26 at 1:38 pm

My guess is that most states and institutions don’t focus on what happens to their remedial students because they’re not seen as full students. This is reflected in the fact that most remedial programming is not for credit and not eligible for financial aid assistance. This mindset is the first thing that needs to change. Changes to programming — for example, offering a remedial course at the same time as the corresponding for-credit course — will follow.

Jane Neuburger 2014/08/29 at 10:09 am

Texas’ reporting on remedial education has a basic flaw (as do other places). Developmental reading is reported as a WRT course (writing).

Over the years, this has confounded and confused the results on developmental writing outcomes. We have known for a long time that weak reading skills impact college success, significantly. Not as much with writing. However, combining the two confuses the issue entirely.

These _could_ be separated, because the course _numbers_ are different. I’m begging the researchers out there to remember and to do just that.

Long-time college-level and developmental writing professor

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