Guest blogger Scott Mendelsberg describes an early remediation program being piloted by Colorado GEAR Up.
Right now, high school seniors across the country are receiving college acceptance letters, comparing financial aid awards, and making decisions about where they will pursue their college dreams. Many of these students also will learn that they are in need of remedial course work in math, reading, or writing before they are allowed to take college-level courses that count towards a degree. Here is a novel idea: what if all students who were accepted into college could start their postsecondary careers with credit-bearing college level work? Imagine the time and money students and states would save if remediation did not exist at the college level.
An early remediation initiative started by Colorado GEAR UP is making this idea a possibility. Last fall the program enrolled 52 low-income and mostly first-generation 8th graders in the first level of the state’s remedial math sequence through a hybrid on-line teacher in the classroom delivery model, which allows for the students to learn at their own pace. These students will attend a high school with a remediation rate over 70%, but through the early remediation program, they will have five years to complete the state’s remedial sequence in math. A partnership with a local college will allow these courses to be transcribed. So no matter what their standardized tests or placement scores turn out to be, the students already will have passed the remedial level courses recognized by postsecondary institutions, thereby guaranteeing that they will not have to take remedial- level coursework.
This guarantee is crucial since decisions about who needs remediation typically are based on standardized-test scores or placement tests offered by institutions. Recent studies by the Community College Research Center, however, have shown these tests misplace a significant number of students into remedial classes, and that anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of the students assigned to remediation could have passed college-level classes with a grade of B or higher.
The early remediation strategy is driven by the philosophy that the problems surrounding remedial education, and the idea of what it means to be “college ready,” can be answered with a simple question of timing. If we know that a student graduating from a high school with high remediation rates will need remediation, then why wait for the student to enter college to be told this fact? Why is it assumed that the curriculum in K-12 is different than in remedial education? Why is so much emphasis placed on scores from ACT or SAT exams?
While the idea of creating seamless P-20 systems is accepted by educators, policymakers, and most education stakeholders, a true transformation of our educational system requires more than just mutually accepted standards, curriculum alignment, and teacher training. Concurrent enrollment opportunities and offering early remediation blurs the lines between K-12 and higher education in a way that is beneficial to students.
With the school year almost over for the pilot program that began in the fall, 41 — or almost 80% — of the 8th graders are on track to pass the first level of remediation, and one student already has moved onto the second level. The students who do not pass the first level will be able to pick up where they left off once they start school next fall, instead of having to sit through a semester’s worth of work that they have already mastered. All of these students were behind grade level when they enrolled in the remedial course. Regardless of the progress the students make in 8th grade, they will have four more years to complete the remedial math sequence so they can begin their postsecondary career with college-level work.
Scott Mendelsberg is the Executive Director of Colorado GEAR UP, a federally funded pre-collegiate program housed at the Colorado Department of Higher Education, which utilizes innovative solutions to help low-income and first generation students graduate from high school and earn a college degree.