Remediation rates inflated by poor assessment process

Remediation rates inflated by poor assessment process

(Calif.) While preparing students for higher education remains a primary goal of the state’s high schools, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said Wednesday that inaccurate readiness testing by colleges refers too many incoming freshmen into remediation programs.

Paul Steenhausen, LAO principal fiscal and policy analyst, told a legislative panel that as many as one third of the students sent into remediation programs don’t need the additional support. Further, about 75 percent of students who do need remediation are often placed at a level below where they could have been successful.

Those findings come in stark contrast to what college entrance officials say.

Community colleges in California determine that about 75 percent of incoming students are unprepared for college-level math, English or both.

The California State University system, which draws from the top one-third of high school graduates, finds just over 40 percent of incoming students need remediation; and the University of California system requires about 23 percent of incoming freshmen take remedial English courses.

According to Steenhausen, the problem lies in the fact that current assessments, especially those used by community colleges, do not accurately represent what a student is capable of on their own. High school grades and statewide assessment scores are just a couple of things that should be taken into account too.

“National research has shown that placement tests often identify students as unprepared or as pre-collegiate level in skills, when in fact they could have been successful in a college-level course,” Steenhausen said during the committee hearing. “And community colleges in California are right now finding out that they have been systematically under placing students in remediation for years.

“As community colleges in California begin using multiple measures and taking a more holistic and accurate view of a student’s preparedness level and ability to succeed, researchers expect the percentage of students being placed in remediation to go down,” he continued.

Studies regularly show that students who are required to take remedial courses are often discouraged by the delay in their academic progress and less likely to graduate than their peers. In California specifically, there is a 30 percentage point difference in graduation rates among transfer or degree-seeking community college students depending on whether or not they’re deemed college ready upon enrollment. In the CSU system, the difference is 20 percentage points, Steenhausen said.

In some cases, students who are assessed as needing remediation don’t even get that far, according to Steenhausen, who noted that about 30 percent of would-be community college students who are placed in remediation don’t go on to even enroll.

Senators on the education committee said throughout the hearing that the numbers were as surprising as they were disappointing.

“You’re telling me 30 percent of students are being under placed [in remediation versus college-level courses], and we have another 30 percent who just bail on college altogether,” Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, said Wednesday. “That’s a tremendous loss for the state of California and for human capital, not just for the individual, but for the state collectively.”

Steenhausen did point out that part of the problem still resides in what he called an “imperfect alignment” between what the high schools are teaching and what their expectations are, and what the colleges expect–especially in English language arts.

According to a state audit of access to and completion of college preparatory coursework in California released Tuesday, another problem may be that lower expectations in some high schools and a lack of relevant support services makes it too easy for students to fall of track in their completion of college prep work. Auditors found that while 69 percent of students in San Francisco Unified School District completed such coursework in 2015, only 21 percent of students in Stockton Unified School District did the same.

Still, Steenhausen testified that while issues existed in the K-12 system in terms of college preparation, colleges should ensure the assessments they use are not underestimating what students actually know or what they’re capable of.

“Community colleges have historically used different exams that they buy from a testing company–and actually, one of the companies recently stopped offering their test because they thought it wasn’t a good predictor of success for the students,” Steenhausen said. “The community colleges are currently piloting a common assessment that faculty and others have gotten together on to develop. The idea is to use data from that assessment test along with other information such as high school standardized test scores and grades to help place students.”