Leadership & Governance

Video: ‘Inescapable’ Support for Remedial Students

February 23, 2016

Produced by Carmen Mendoza

Nearly nine in 10 students who enroll in community college believe they are prepared to succeed academically, but almost seven in 10 end up taking at least one remedial course. The Center for Community College Student Engagement examines that disparity, drawing on survey results from more than 70,000 students and 4,500 faculty members, in a report out on Tuesday, “Expectations Meet Reality: The Underprepared Student and Community Colleges.” How the institutions assess students’ readiness, place them in courses, and guide them through developmental education reveals some promising but not yet widespread innovations.

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“If we’re going to increase completion rates, we have to do things differently,” says Evelyn Waiwaiole, the center’s director. Corequisite models of remediation, in which students take a developmental and a college-level course concurrently, have shown positive results, but only 40 percent of students surveyed had done that in English, 31 percent in mathematics. Some institutions are now placing students in courses more effectively, she says, by considering multiple measures (like high-school grades), but 87 percent of students still take a placement test, which is often the sole determinant of whether they start in remedial or college-level courses. Ms. Waiwaiole (pronounced why-why-OH-lee) visited The Chronicle recently to share some findings from the report and thoughts on taking promising models to scale.


SARA LIPKA: Hello. I'm here today with Evelyn Waiwaiole, Director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement. Evelyn, thanks so much for coming by.

EVELYN WAIWAIOLE: Thanks so much for having me.

SARA LIPKA: So the last decade has brought a lot of attention to developmental or remedial education. And your recent report says that both the system is broken and that it's worth fixing. What has it taken to reach consensus on both of those points?

EVELYN WAIWAIOLE: You know, first of all, I think there's just a tremendous spotlight on community colleges, and it's a real opportunity for us to just think about how we can improve things. And to get to that consensus, really, we have to think about that 60% of our students are coming to our colleges under-prepared. And so, at the same time, with that spotlight, there is this challenge before us to increase completion rates. So this notion that remedial or developmental education is broken is, if we're going to increase completion rates, we have to do things differently.

But at the same point, we're seeing a lot of innovation in our community colleges. We're seeing a lot of experimentation with developmental education. And we're seeing some real positive results and some real great outcomes. We just need to see them on a larger scale. So to come to consensus, yes, things have been broken, but we're seeing some great new innovation experimentation and some great outcomes. We just need to do them on a larger scale.

SARA LIPKA: Are there stakeholders that you're still trying to persuade that DevEd is worth fixing?

EVELYN WAIWAIOLE: You know, I think most people realize that we need to do things differently, and that we need to do them on a larger scale. I think that faculty that work with developmental education, they are there for the mission. They are there and they're mission-hearted for the students. They are there to help those students every day.

Our report talks about, that developmental education students, over half of them do early assessments. They want to know where their students are when they come into their classes. They want to help them. We know that colleges across the country are thinking and considering, how do we redesign the student experience so that all students can be successful? Colleges are experimenting with assessment and placement.

In the report we talk about Davidson County Community College and the Ivy Tech system using multiple measures to be able to consider how to place students appropriately using GPA, high school GPA. We talk about Lee College reaching down into high schools to be able to give the supports, and give the structures and supports to help high school students before they even get to our colleges. So colleges across the country are doing things differently to be able to help students be prepared before they ever get to our colleges. So there's lots of experimentation happening all over the country, we just need to do it on a larger scale.

SARA LIPKA: What are some of the most promising models for redesign developmental education, and how widespread are they?

SARA LIPKA: That's a really great question and one that's gotten a lot of discussion, is the co-requisite model. It started at Community College of Baltimore County under the great leadership of Peter Adams. And it's where you take a high-level developmental education course and pair it with a gatekeeper course. Lots of places are doing it.

Recently, Complete College America released a report talking about the good work happening in Tennessee, Indiana, and West Virginia. We talk about in our report, talking about when you do that, students are more engaged. We saw it in all five of our benchmarks for student engagement, they were more engaged.

We talk about it in our report also, featuring the good work at Butler Community College. They actually had two models for pairing classes together. They paired the highest level of developmental education with a gatekeeper course, and then they did another pairing. They did a pairing of the lowest level of developmental education with the highest level of developmental education. Again, trying to see, how can we give students the skills they need as quickly as we can, so that they can get to college courses rapidly, but also, successfully?

So we're seeing that across the country, and it's that co-requisite model. And we've seen lots and lots of positive results with this. Also, when we disaggregate these results, these outcomes, we're seeing positive results by race and ethnicity. And that's very important as we want to, across the country, close achievement gaps. So that's a model that we've seen really positive results with.

The other thing that we're seeing colleges do is-- That model is really known for pairing the highest level of developmental education with the gatekeeper course. But what do you do with all the other students that aren't at the highest level of developmental education? And we're seeing colleges put in supports with the other students in their courses. So putting in supplemental instruction, tutoring, for students who need more supports that aren't at the highest level of development education.

And that data, we don't have data on that yet. There's no silver bullet for this work. But we're seeing colleges put in supports that are inescapable, and we still need to see what that's going to look like. But colleges are experimenting with that, and we're waiting and see what that's gonna look like.

SARA LIPKA: You've also paid attention to placement-- how colleges decide where students will start. And there's been some innovation there too but, according to your report, still, far and away, most students take a single placement test. Tell me what's going on there, and what stands to change.

EVELYN WAIWAIOLE: Yeah. There's lots of conversation across the country about, do we move away from a single placement test? Do we use multiple measures? In our report we show that right now, still, 87% of students across the country are taking a single placement test.

There are places, Long Beach City College, Davidson County Community College, the State of North Carolina, Ivy Tech, where they're using multiple measures. So we're seeing some real progress there. But then we also have colleges-- and let me just go back for a second-- that multiple measures works really well for students who are coming straight out of high school.

But the average age at a community college is 29, so we have lots of students who are not coming straight out of high school. So we have to have something for them as well. And so we have places like Passaic Community College in New Jersey, that have online resources. They have a sample online placement test with videos that allows students to go in and have a sample test, so that they just need a brush up or a refresher before they take that placement test. They can do that.

We also have a place like Washington State Community College in Ohio, not Washington, where they have mandatory brush up before you take that placement test. Just think of that returning adult whose lost their job, but wants to go back and get some new skills at the community college. They have mandatory brush up before they take that test, and then they take it. So there, again, it's inescapable resources for these students. It's requiring them to do that. And that's what we're seeing in the world of assessment and placement-- making these resources inescapable.

SARA LIPKA: That disconnect that you found is that about 9 in 10 students who come to community colleges feel that they're academically prepared for college-level work, and just about 7 in 10 will place into at least one developmental course. What's going on there?

EVELYN WAIWAIOLE: You know, I think that gets back to the title of this report-- Expectations Meet Reality. You know, students think they're academically prepared, and then they come and they place into a developmental education course. And I think we, as colleges, this isn't new. Colleges across the country have been doing this, and one example we give in the report is Lee College in Texas.

But we have to reach down into our high schools and begin to think about building those partnerships. Reach down into those high schools and have students do assessments earlier. We need to have them take those assessment earlier so that we can give them the supports in high school, before they ever come. And also, help them assess their own expectations so they're not disappointed when they get to us. Because some of what they're expecting, we could manage before they ever show up on our front door.

And also, give them those tools and resources before they get there and then, perhaps, their expectations would be aligned with reality before they show up. So there's lots that can be done, and Lee College in Texas is doing that really well, working with their K through 12 system. And colleges across the country are doing that, just working with the K through 12 system in their backyard and trying to build those relationships.

SARA LIPKA: Well Evelyn, thank you so much for visiting us.

EVELYN WAIWAIOLE: Thanks so much for having me. I enjoyed my time here.