Eight Questions Report, Questions 1 and 2

Eight Important Questions for Eleven Community College Leaders:An Exploration of Community College Issues, Trends & Strategies

Questions 1 and 2

by the SOURCE on Community College Issues, Trends & Strategies
May 2011

1. Do you think community college educators, in general, have a clear consensus among each other about what it really means to be college ready, and do you believe that the typical testing being applied to incoming community college students measures whether or not they are college ready?

Question 1 Brief: The systems in place at many community colleges to identify whether or not an incoming student can realistically be considered ready for college are not exactly working very well. Plus, there seems to be no real consensus of what it means to be college ready, at least from the testing point of view. “Current testing for college placement has been found to be woefully lacking in the ability to place students accurately in remedial courses,” said O’Banion, referring to research published in the Community College Research Center’s Assessment of Evidence Series. “The current assessment systems are not cutting it,” added de los Santos.

“I would say that people are all over the waterfront with a response to that question,” noted Roueche.

Lassiter explained that the DCCCD is exploring the development of new diagnostic tools that can identify academic and skill deficiencies at a more granular level in order to provide more modular, accelerated remedial education as opposed to the full-semester remedial courses that typically frustrate students and cause them to drop out.

Milliron: A lot of energy’s going into the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, and a lot of high schools are going to revamp their curricular pathways. We need to make sure that there is a sync between higher education expectations and high school reform. We don’t want another generation of students to graduate meeting all the requirements of a high school but still needing remedial education for college. Right now there’s not a great consensus around that, and people are working towards greater consensus.

The weakest link is where people are trying to get there with the cognitive measures around math or reading and writing. I think the bigger challenges are around non-cognitive expectations and academic tenacity expectations that may determine whether a student is or is not really ready for college. I think that’s the tougher work, and the testing side is really difficult to get at that.

Thor: I think people say someone is college ready if they do not need remedial classes. I think that tests are a measure, but not the only measure. Tests should be used as a guide for placement. The faculty member’s judgment also needs to be there because we find that students place into remedial classes, but it may be that there were only certain modules of a larger course that they really needed. They really could be successful at the next level. So, the placement tests should only be the first stop in determining what a student may need.

Other things need to be looked at as well, particularly if you’re talking about a traditional 18-year-old coming out of high school. What was the rigor of the curriculum they had? Did they have success in college prep or college-level courses taken in high school, which is so common now with dual enrollments? Also, it’s obvious that we have some students who are just not good test takers, and it’s not necessarily a reflection of their college readiness.

Shugart: We’ve had this wild pendulum swing from expectations of a broadly educated, reasoning, problem-solving, scientific-thinking, literate adult at the point of graduation from high school to a reductionist model of having a handful of skills that makes them somewhat employable and ready to take freshman-level classes. And I don’t think that conversation is even being held meaningfully right now. I know that a faculty member teaching introduction to philosophy would hope for something closer to the former than the latter. But my guess is that almost all of the national reform efforts now being produced are focused on a reductionist model of expectations.

Lambert: I don’t know if we have a clear consensus. I think we can say here’s what students need to know, but who’s responsible for helping students acquire that knowledge? For example, I think folks would say soft skills, or some people might say personal-effectiveness competencies, and ask who is responsible for making sure the student has those skills and competencies, and is that part of being college ready. And then you get into the academic competencies, with math and English being the two biggies that pop out. Where is the math cutoff? Where is the English cutoff? I don’t think we as a country have an answer to these questions.

[Regarding tests], it’s you can come to my school and my cutoff score is one thing, but go to the school just up the road and their cutoff score is different. So, if the cutoff scores are a reflection of our consensus; we don’t have consensus. And we don’t all use the same instrument. Should there just be just one standard instrument with one standard cutoff score, right or wrong, whatever it is, that we all come to accept?

2. What solutions seem to work best in getting remedial students on the right path to academic success and ultimately toward college completion, and how can educational technologies help in this area?

Question 2 Brief: Specific examples were provided of successful remedial programs. Thor pointed to Foothill College’s award-winning Math My Way program, a revamped way of teaching math that has resulted in the highest success rate in math courses in California. “Remarkably what’s happened is that instead of students running away from Foothill College [because of remedial math challenges], they are running toward Foothill College because the word is out that this is where you go to deal with math problems,” Thor said. The college is also working with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s Statway™ — a year-long, college-level statistics course targeted at developmental mathematics students. Nineteen community colleges are currently planning to implement Statway in the fall.

Shugart mentioned Valencia Community College’s implementation of Life Map, an online career development service that helps students become more engaged in the process of discovering their educational and career pathways. “It’s a huge suite of tools that helps students get connected and figure out a direction,” he said. “We are wondering now if it would be possible to create an en¬tirely online course or a series of course expe-riences that we can give away to students as they approach college that would help them discern their purpose in coming or not coming to college.”

Lambert talked about the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program that was developed by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. I-BEST pairs workforce training with Adult Basic Education (ABE) or English as a Second Language (ESL) so students learn literacy and workplace skills at the same time. Adult literacy and vocational instructors work together to develop and deliver instruction.

El Paso Community College’s efforts to improve its local high school students’ college readiness, and hence decrease the number of enrollments in developmental courses, was noted by de los Santos as an exemplary program with “tremendous outcomes” (for more information see the CCRC Report: “Collaborating to Create Change: How El Paso Community College Improved the Readiness of Its Incoming Students Through Achieving the Dream”). The Global Skills for College Completion project was also mentioned by de los Santos. Here technology is being used to create an online community of practice related to developmental education where faculty can share what’s working or not working, “so they can increase the pass rate of students who are matriculating out of developmental education into college-ready education,” de los Santos said.

Gould: Some learners have gone through the educational system with undiagnosed learning disabilities and find frustration when they get to college. In these cases, an individualized educational plan and intervention strategy based on the learner’s disability works best. In other cases, the individual learned a skill in math, reading, or writing but did not apply the skill or had no need to sharpen the skill, so a tutorial approach, perhaps individualized, is best.

There is promise in mainstreaming these students with tutorial support. Also, online learning communities where a ‘million people in the learning community are available to help an individual’ have great promise. Immersion programs based on contextualized curricula focused on applied uses of reading, writing, speaking, and math skills with a developmental emphasis also have great promise.

Most importantly, no matter what the level of the deficiency, for a student to benefit from remedial or developmental education, the approach should be ‘better, faster, and more effective’ than traditional semester approaches to remediation. Remedial learners can get discouraged very quickly when they see a long developmental process of a series of classes in front of them before they are ready for college-level courses. This message often impacts the learner’s self-concept and affirms that they have difficulty learning and therefore may not be ‘college material.’ All approaches need to engage the student effectively and in a timely manner so the learning process in itself is not discouraging.

Roueche: There are many things that are important. One is these students need more orientation than any other group of students. They’re more likely to need a caring, available mentor than anybody else. They definitely need a careful assessment, and by careful I mean probably more diagnostic than just the broad benchmarks that we’re now using. There needs to be placement requirements. I’ve been to so many colleges where if you don’t read and write well you have to take remedial reading, but then you find out they can take twelve other hours before they have to take the remedial reading. Now you say, ‘well what twelve hours do you have in your college where somebody that’s functionally illiterate has a chance of passing?’

[Another concern is] ending late registration. We know that late registration is probably the most counter-productive academic policy ever invented by community colleges. Even people who didn’t finish high school know that the first week is the most important week, and the first day is the most important day, and the first hour is the most important hour.

There is a lot of data now showing that students who enroll late have three times the dropout rate or three times the failure rate of students who begin on time. Class attendance is still the variable associated with success. You have to work hard with this population to get them in class on time, prepared. Teachers and counselors have to take a lot of responsibility for getting that positive behavior going with these students.

Questions 3 and 4
Questions 5 and 6
Questions 7 and 8

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