Making Remedial Education Work

Not all students enter post secondary school with same level of basic skills. Through remediation, schools can serve a broader population and ensure that all incoming students will have the minimum skills to be successful.

Unfortunately, remedial education, or Dev Ed, is often referred to as “the graveyard of higher education.” Data from the U.S. Department of Education reveals that 83% of students in remedial reading classes and 73% of students in remedial math classes drop out – a very high attrition rate.

When you consider that 34% of all incoming students require at least one remedial class (and that number jumps to 43% for students entering community college), it is easy to understand why keeping these students in the pipeline is critical to completion rates.

There are many factors that can influence student drop out. In the case of Dev Ed classes, students can become overwhelmed or intimidated, causing them to predict their own failure from the beginning. Sometimes students get frustrated with the lack of tangible progress towards their end goal (i.e., not taking classes directly related to their degree or career path), or they can feel frustrated about being placed in a remedial class that covers skills they may already possess. These are just a few examples of why a student might give up and drop out.

In an effort to get students into the right level classes, many colleges and universities employ some form of placement testing. The problem with the most commonly used tests is that colleges place students in remedial classes according to a score – not actual diagnostics. Scores do not tell instructors exactly what areas a student may need to focus on. In addition, by using a diagnostic test, a school may find ways to fill some of these gaps without placing a student in a low-level Dev Ed class for an entire semester. 

Institutions need to rethink remedial classes and placement. They need to start using placement tests that provide useful information instead of merely a score. They need to find ways to deliver highly targeted instruction that quickly fills in the missing pieces for the students and gets them into their core classes faster.

What experiences have you had with Dev Ed classes at your college?

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