Sunday, February 24, 2013

College remedial courses: necessary or a scam?

Over the past couple of years, I've Tweeted and commented through blogs and other social networking about the rise in unnecessary remedial courses forced on incoming college freshmen. College courses are supposed to be difficult but most do not require a remedial step between high school and the postsecondary classroom. I easily recall how difficult my first term of college calculus was following a lackluster four years of high school math (most of my high school work would fit the description of "lackluster," but it wasn't the school's fault) and then a nearly four-year break before I settled down to a serious collegiate effort. Guess what? I didn't need a remedial course and I ended up majoring in mathematics.

Education Week recently noted what I've been saying in an article title, "Remedial Placements Found to Be Overused." 

At a time when more high schools are looking to their graduates' college-remediation rates as a clue to how well they prepare students for college and careers, new research findings suggest a significant portion of students who test into remedial classes don't actually need them.

The way colleges are using standardized placement tests such as the College Board's Accuplacer, ACT's Compass, and others can misidentify students, and secondary schools and universities should work to develop a more comprehensive profile of students' strengths and weaknesses in performing college-level work.

It's important to take note of this belated realization because public schools are getting hammered by a public easily swayed by the siren's song incessantly complaining that graduates today are not academically ready for college. BS, and I don't mean a type of college degree, either. In addition, many students taking college remedial courses fail to graduate on time or at all. Is it a wonder? I just walked into your ivy-covered building and you told me I'm stupid. Try that in a high school and see what it does to the school's on-time graduation rate (or graduation at all).

Those high rates of remediation have long been used by education policymakers to suggest that primary and secondary schools do not prepare students adequately for college-level work. They were one of the key arguments behind the development of the common core and other standards-reform initiatives, and states such as Illinois include remediation rates in feedback reports to high schools.

The article goes on to point out that most students taking placement tests are unprepared to do so and expected to recall what they learned in an Algebra class taken three or more years earlier. They suggest "brushing up" before taking the test. Really? I suggest brushing up before you take the higher level course and stop wasting money on remedial courses that aren't needed. Perhaps its time to follow the money, that is the additional revenues many colleges are raking in by convincing incoming freshmen and their parents to waste thousands of dollars (and time) on unnecessary remedial classes.