Transforming Postsecondary Remediation Webinar Follow-Up Questions: Part 2 – Grit, Common Core, Special Populations, and Emerging Research Needs

This post is the second in a two-part series following the Webinar, “Transforming Remediation: Understanding the Research, Policy, and Practice,” where presenters are responding to questions submitted by participants. The first post in this series and a brief summary of the webinar are available online.

Could you further explain the "grit" model discussed during the Webinar?

Cynthia Liston: Dr. Duckworth's Grit Scale comprises a set of 8 to 12 self-assessment questions to measure to extent to which an individual exhibits traits and behaviors around persistence and effort.  The idea is that it's not just intelligence and content knowledge that leads to academic success, but rather effort and mindset.  Therefore measuring a student's “grit” might be a predictor of whether they will succeed in college courses.

It is my understanding that Colorado's community colleges are adding these “grit” questions to their placement test as background questions in order to provide additional self-assessment information.  I'm not sure; however, if a student's responses are formally or informally taken into account for placement decisions.

Bruce Vandal:  Grit is a free assessment that can be used alongside other assessment instruments to assess the non-cognitive aspects of students’ readiness for college level work. Grit, as well as other work done by the Carnegie Foundation on Productive Persistence, enables colleges to design instructional models that not only teach academic content, but build the college success skills that are so essential to college completion.

How will the adoption and implementation of Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English impact postsecondary remediation?

Michelle Hodara: I think the hope is that the use of the Common Core State Standard assessments (Smarter Balanced and PARCC) will contribute to a more consistent measure of college readiness and, ideally, reduce the need for developmental education.  The assessments will be administered to high school juniors to determine their mastery of the standards. The idea is that a statewide “college ready” cutoff score in each subject area will be established. Students who are not college ready will be provided interventions in their senior year to improve their academic skills, so they can hopefully place out of developmental education in college. You can read more about the Common Core and its implication for community colleges here.

Bruce Vandal:  Effective utilization of the 11th grade college and career readiness assessments to design senior year experiences, like transition courses and dual credit, will significantly reduce the percent of students who are not college ready – and also the percent of students who are significantly below college ready.  When combined with co-requisite strategies at the higher education level where students receive support in gateway courses– it is not only foreseeable – but highly likely that we will see the end of standalone remediation for high school graduates who immediately enroll in college.

How are special populations (students with disabilities, low-income students, English Language Learners (ELL) students) affected by postsecondary remediation? How are redesigns affecting the performance and completion outcomes for these students?

Katie Hern:  On the topic of accelerated remediation, concerns are often expressed about the needs of special populations. People especially worry that learning disabled and English language learners may have higher rates of failure and withdrawal in accelerated models. The question comes up regularly on my own campus, which has a long-standing and successful accelerated English course open to any student. Overall, there has not been enough systematic study of this question. I haven’t seen anything specifically about low-income students, and the data on ESL and learning disabled populations is fairly limited.

Descriptive data from Chabot College does, however, point in some interesting directions. Students from Chabot’s “Learning Skills” courses (for students with identified learning disabilities) have higher pass rates when they choose the accelerated one-semester course (58% pass) than when they enroll in the first course of the non-accelerated remedial sequence (47% pass). Additionally, given that not all learning disabled students sign up for disability servies, it’s useful to look at the performance of students scoring in the “low” range of Accuplacer scores (presuming that a greater percentage of them could have learning disabilities). Surprisingly, this is the group that sees the biggest gain in course success rates when enrolling in the accelerated course (56% pass) instead of the first non-accelerated course (42% pass). (For developmental students in the “middle” and “high” Accuplacer ranges, pass rates are more similar in the accelerated and non-accelerated courses.) These findings about learning disabled and low-scoring students suggests that, contrary to the fear that disabled students may be disadvantaged by accelerated remediation, they may actually benefit more from this approach than other students.

Students coming from Chabot’s ESL curriculum have comparable pass rates in the accelerated course (61%) as they do in the first course of the non-accelerated sequence (63%). It’s important to note, though, that while first-course pass rates are comparable, the longer sequence includes more opportunities for student attrition, and fewer ESL students go on to complete college-level English on the non-accelerated path.

The issue of “exit points” in a student’s path is also important to keep in mind for low-income populations. Longer remedial sequences inherently include more opportunities for student attrition – places where they can disappear by not passing a course or not enrolling in the next course. Because low-income students often face more external obstacles to college completion (such as work and family demands), I would argue that there is a greater urgency for colleges to eliminate opportunities for attrition by redesigning our curricula.

Michelle Hodara: There is not enough research on how sub-populations of students experience and are impacted by developmental education programs and reforms. As Katie pointed out in her presentation, there is still a lot of work to be done around developing accelerated English reforms for ELL students. A study I conducted in an urban context with a large population of language minority students (i.e., individuals proficient in more than one language) suggests that language minority students in developmental education benefit from taking reading and writing courses together rather than separately. This is very early evidence that integrating reading and writing may be beneficial for these students. Evaluating the impact of developmental education practices, policies, and programs on sub-populations of students is an important direction for researchers.

What are the future needs for research on postsecondary remediation? 

Michelle Hodara:  There are many future needs for research on postsecondary remediation. For example, more research on how developmental education affects subpopulations is needed (see above). Another important area is experimenting with and studying improvements to the assessment and placement process. For example, how can we help entering community college students better understand the stakes of this process and better prepare for the placement exams? How can community colleges best use high school transcript information during this process to determine students’ level of readiness? How can colleges assess students’ nonacademic skills and use measures of nonacademic skills to provide entering students with targeted supports?

Another important direction for research is estimating the cost-effectiveness of reforms. This means taking into account the costs of interventions and programs, as well as the benefits. Cost is important to determining how feasible it is to scale up a reform and ensure it is sustainable. A cost-benefit analysis can also help improve the delivery of the program and/or identify features of the program that are running better than others.

Bruce Vandal:  While there is much more we need to learn about the college success of students who are placed into remediation and/or participate in new models, the preponderance of evidence indicating the current system of long remedial education sequences calls for immediate transformation of the system. Co-requisite strategies fundamentally address the central problem of remediation – student attrition.   The real work ahead is not to build the perfect assessment and placement process to determine who should and should not be in college-level gateway courses, but should be on how to most effectively educate students in gateway courses. 

Erin Russ is a Program Associate at the American Youth Policy Forum.

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