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LFC panel calls remedial course ineffective

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Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Remedial courses for college freshmen are expensive and often ineffective, according to a legislative panel, which is calling for the state and individual schools to adopt more rigorous requirements for high school students.

A Legislative Finance Committee staff report finds that remedial courses often don’t provide the help that was intended.

In fact, taking one remedial course dropped the six-year bachelor’s degree rate from 77 percent to 17 percent, while taking a second remedial course reduced the rate to 5 percent, according to the report.

“The state has successfully increased access to post-secondary education for large numbers of students, but too many of those students show up unprepared to earn college credits,” the report states. “Instead, time and money are wasted on a sequence of developmental, or remedial, courses, rarely leading to program completion.”

Remedial education refers to classes below college-credit level taken at college campuses. Traditionally, students deemed not ready for credit-bearing courses – either because they were inadequately prepared or out of school for some time – have been required to take up to three remedial courses in English, math or both. Most of the courses are taken at a community college.

Students who take the classes include those who fare poorly on placement tests, have low grades on their high school transcripts or who appear ill prepared to an instructor.

The LFC report was forwarded to the state Higher Education Department during the last legislative session. The LFC staff said on Thursday they expect HED to provide progress reports in response to the shortcomings this summer. Among its many recommendations, the report calls on the HED to provide “postsecondary performance feedback to high schools annually on the department’s website.”

For years, about half of the state’s college freshmen have required remedial courses. Rates are higher for Native Americans (59 percent), Latinos (68 percent) and low-income students (79 percent).

The report contains several recommendations for high schools. For example, it noted that, last year, 10 percent of students who passed the SBA reading test were still placed into remedial reading courses.

Senior year under-used

The state and its high schools should use SBA scores to “better advise college-bound students, particularly regarding senior year course-selection and purposeful dual credit enrollment.”

Furthermore, graduation requirements should be aligned with college admissions criteria, the report says.

It notes that the high school senior year is often under-used, with roughly half of all seniors not taking full course loads.

Sitting out senior year math, for example, strongly affects a student’s likely need for remediation. Even students who took calculus during junior year but did not take math in their senior year had significantly higher remediation rates, 70 percent, compared with the 12 percent for those who took calculus during their senior year.

New Mexico’s high schools’ redesigned math requirements inadequately prepare many students for college-level math, the report states. It notes that one requirement is the completion of four mathematics courses, including at least algebra II or higher.

“In FY13, however, of the students whose highest high school math class was algebra II, 77 percent still were required to take a developmental math course as a (college) freshman. Remediation rates decrease for students who complete higher level math courses.”

‘Bridge to Nowhere’

New Mexico is not alone. Complete College America, a nonprofit organization that works with states to increase college graduation rates, refers to remediation as higher education’s “Bridge to Nowhere.” Others describe remedial courses as “the place where college dreams go to die.”

In FY13, 30,000 New Mexico students took 62,000 developmental courses at 21 colleges and universities. The cost was $22 million. Students entering two-year colleges are more likely to need remediation than those going straight from high school to a university.

The report notes a strong correlation between dual-credit courses and a greatly reduced need for remedial classes. Referring to a previous evaluation of Central New Mexico Community College and Doña Ana Community College, it says, “students who take dual credit courses graduate from high school at a higher rate (91 percent compared with 84 percent), enroll in college at a higher rate (67 percent versus 50 percent), and are eligible for credit-bearing courses at a higher rate (65 percent compared with 47 percent).”

Dual credit courses allow high school students to take college-level courses and receive college credit.

Sydney Gunthorpe, vice president for academic affairs, on Thursday said CNM “is intently focused on reducing the amount of time and the number of remedial courses it takes a student to become prepared for college-level coursework.” He too noted the importance of dual credit classes, and said those numbers are on the rise.

CNM offers some courses that combine college-level work with remedial support, which lets students earn credit and get remedial instruction at the same time. “We also offer boot camps to help refresh students’ prior learning to increase their likelihood of placing in college-level courses before they register for classes,” Gunthorpe said.

New courses

Eddie Soto, associate superintendent for secondary education at Albuquerque Public Schools, said he expects two relatively new programs to help reduce the need for remedial education for APS graduates. First is the Common Core State Standards, which are being implemented full blown this year throughout the state. Soto said they are “designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people will need for success in college and their careers.”

The other program is Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, a college readiness program targeting APS students in the academic middle who have the capacity to succeed but need extra support and direction.

States and students spent $3 billion on remedial courses in 2010, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C.-based organization working to see that children graduate from high school prepared for college. Nearly four in 10 remedial students in community colleges never complete the developmental courses, the group says.

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