"College and career readiness" has become a prominent buzz phrase in the K-12 environment for a goal many districts aspire to. The reality, however, is that while more students are going to college than ever before, almost half of those enrolled are having to take remedial classes to get up to the speed. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, anywhere between 28% to 40% of college students have to enroll in at least one remedial class because of failure on placement tests. And that number jumps to 50% when just focusing on community college students.
So what's a school to do? Here are some innovative learning opportunities aimed at curbing the number of students enrolling in remedial classes.
Build a relationship with your local community college or university
A major reason why so many students are landing in remedial courses is because there is a disconnect between the expectations of their high schools and the demands of colleges and universities. Opening a dialog between the two is critical for bridging gaps before students land on college campuses.
Have students take college readiness exams in high school
California, Ohio, North Carolina, and Kentucky all have high school students take pre-college readiness exams. California's Early Assessment Program — a collaboration between the state board of education, the state department of education, and the California State University system — is a great example of various education sectors coming together. Through the program, CSU standards are integrated into already existing math and reading exams that high school students are required to take. This gives students, who take the exam at the end of their junior year, an idea of what they need remediation in before they ever get to college. It also allows schools to tailor curriculum and lessons to those needs.
Create better assessments to determine if remediation is needed
Bridget Terry Long, an academic dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has written extensively on this topic. In Long's policy paper, "Addressing the Academic Barriers to Higher Education," she spoke to the need for a richer assessment of a student's academic readiness. This doesn't necessarily mean a better, longer, or harder test, but rather the reliance on more academic details than just one exam. She suggests, for example, taking into account a student's GPA or the courses they have completed in high school. Additionally, there is the need for more equity. For example, in Florida, certain colleges let students, if they know to ask, re-take the remediation exam. Wealthier students typically retake the test until they pass and don't have to enroll in remedial courses, while poorer students don't always know this is an option. Creating an even playing field is critical when providing support.
Take advantage of federally-funded early remediation programs
Launched in 1998 under the Clinton administration, GEAR UP originally targeted high-poverty middle schools and high schools, giving federal grants for college prep. Today, states such as Colorado are piloting their over versions of the GEAR UP initiative. Under the state's Early Remediation Project, which began in 2011, Colorado students in grades 8-10 have the opportunity to enroll in remedial classes that they otherwise wouldn't have until they were already on a college campus. The idea here, of course, is getting the remediation done early. The initiative also allows students to earn college credit as early as 10th grade, a massive plus given how costly a college degree is these days.
Create better remedial courses
In the cases where students do end up in remedial courses, what can we do to ensure their time is best used? States such as California and Texas have actually allocated funds toward researching the best methods for teaching remedial courses, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Some interesting methods the NCSL points out include: a remedial course tied to job training in Washington, a traditional college-level course with extra supports in Baltimore, learning communities in New York, and accelerated remedial courses in Denver.
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