Posts published in May, 2009

New Push To Lower College Remediation

May 28, 2009

By SAM DILLON New York Times

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — After Bethany Martin graduated from high school here last June, she was surprised when the local community college told her that she had to retake classes like basic composition, for no college credit. Each remedial course costs her $350, more than a week’s pay from her job at a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

Ms. Martin blames chaotic high school classes. “The kids just took over,” she recalls. But her college instructors say that even well-run high school courses often fail to teach what students need to know in college. They say that Ms. Martin’s senior English class, for instance, focused on literature, but little on writing.

Like Ms. Martin, more than a million college freshmen across the nation must take remedial courses each year, and many drop out before getting a degree. Poorly run public schools are a part of the problem, but so is a disconnect between high schools and colleges.

“We need to better align what we expect somebody to be able to do to graduate high school with what we expect them to do in college,” said Billie A. Unger, the dean at Ms. Martin’s school, Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, who oversees “developmental” classes, a nice word for remedial. “If I’m to be a pro football player, and you teach me basketball all through school, I’ll end up in developmental sports,” she said.

Now the Obama administration is pressing states to get public school and higher education authorities working together. President Obama recently set the goal of again making the United States the nation with the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020, which means a lot more students who start college will have to graduate.

So the stimulus law that Mr. Obama signed in February requires states receiving stabilization money to work to improve courses and tests so that high school graduates can succeed in college without remedial classes.

Experts called the new requirements an important shift in federal policy, which until now has focused on promoting college access and financial aid.

“This is a breakthrough, the first time we’ve had federal policies try to move the public schools and the postsecondary systems closer together by demanding preparation in high school and persistence in college,” said Michael Kirst, a Stanford University professor emeritus who has studied the proliferation of remedial courses on American campuses.

More than 60 percent of students enrolling at two-year colleges, and 20 percent to 30 percent at four-year colleges, take remedial courses, Dr. Kirst estimated, although he said flawed official record-keeping had made a precise accounting impossible.

“Right now, high schools hand students off to colleges and declare victory,” Dr. Kirst said. “They say, ‘A high percentage of our graduates went to college,’ but they don’t look at how many had to take remedial courses or never got a degree. And the colleges blame the high schools for not preparing students, but don’t work to align the courses. The two systems don’t communicate well at all.”

The disconnect between public schools and higher education came under discussion recently at Blue Ridge College, where Education Secretary Arne Duncan led a town hall-style meeting.

“When colleges say the problem is with the way kids come out of high school, and high schools say the problem is the way the kids come out of middle school, we don’t get anywhere,” Mr. Duncan said after the meeting. “We all have to hold ourselves accountable.”

Gayle Manchin, the wife of Gov. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a Democrat, participated in the meeting. In an interview afterward, she said she learned of the disconnect between secondary and postsecondary worlds when teaching at a state university in the last decade. Even some high school honors students failed college placement exams and were assigned to her developmental courses, she said.

“Boy, were they surprised,” Ms. Manchin said.

Steven L. Paine, the schools superintendent in West Virginia, said the state now requires three years of high school math to graduate, up from two, and has begun working with some 40 other states to develop “college and career-ready standards” for its public schools.

That effort dates to 2005, when 13 states agreed to work together to develop better definitions of what students need to know to be ready for college, more rigorous courses to teach those standards and tougher examinations to test them, said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, a Washington-based organization that is coordinating the effort.

California has come up with an innovative early-warning system in which students take required math and English tests at the end of 11th grade, Mr. Cohen said.

“When you get the results back, you’re told, ‘Congratulations, you are ready to do college-level work,’ ” Mr. Cohen said. “The other message says, ‘The results show you’re not ready for college, but the good news is you have a whole year to get the skills you need.’ ”

California developed that system by bringing together educators from the public high school and the state university systems to work on ways to improve high school graduates’ transition to college.

Martinsburg High School, five blocks southeast of Blue Ridge College, turns out scores of graduates who end up in the college’s remedial classes. Ms. Martin, 19, works part-time at Chick-fil-A for $7.50 an hour when she is not at college. In an interview, she recalled some high school classes in which she could have learned more.

“My 10th-grade English class was out of control,” she said. “The guys would talk and shout, and the teacher wouldn’t do anything.”

A chemistry teacher, she said, spent two weeks teaching students to convert inches to centimeters.

“The third week he just stopped teaching,” she said. “Kids were sitting on the lab counters and sleeping and going out to McDonald’s.”

Other Martinsburg graduates described similar experiences.

Regina Phillips, who became the high school’s principal last summer, said she took over a school in trouble. Three English teachers and five math teachers were uncertified, she said.

“The dropout rate was below standard,” Ms. Phillips said. “In many courses, the rigor wasn’t there.”

She has hired new teachers, cracked down on tardiness and indiscipline, and is encouraging the school’s excellent music program, she said.

“Over time, we’ll be providing the colleges with the level of students they deserve,” Ms. Phillips said.


Governance For K-16 Is Fractured

State Governance Efforts to Overcome the K-16 Divide

In the 1970’s, several states, including Idaho, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Virginia tried to bridge the K-16 gap through gubernatorial-appointed secretaries of education. The positions were created with the expectation that centralized, state-level leadership for K-12 and higher education could better coordinate and integrate education policy, including such areas as teacher education. After almost three decades, however, none of these states’ K-16 system goals and policies are as aligned as they were originally intended. This disconnected governance is reflected in a range of disconnected policies, as shown in the following examples of current policies in states that have attempted coordination through trying to overcome the fact that separate boards and departments govern k12 and postsecondary education.

In Idaho, strong public concern for the quality of K-12 education had pulled the Secretary and Board’s attention to K-12 issues, which led to greater independence and less scrutiny of higher education. In Virginia, compulsory 11th grade end-of-course exams contained relevant content to judge higher education readiness, but there has been no serious discussion of using Virginia K-12 standards of learning for postsecondary admission or placement. Similarly in Pennsylvania, students’ performance on the high-stakes high school exit exam does not relate to any postsecondary standards. Tying performance on such state exams to postsecondary admissions and/or placement would help address students’ low motivation to perform well, as well provide clearer signals to students about the skills needed to do college work without remediation. In Massachusetts, higher education leaders increased academic requirements and decreased remedial courses at public colleges. This policy, however, was initiated by the higher education system without significant involvement of the secretary of education or K-12 educators. In Oregon, the state tried to improve K-14 educational pathways by placing the community colleges under the state board of education. But Oregon’s promising competency-based exit exam, the Certificate of Advanced Mastery (CAM) for 11th and 12th grade students was dropped, and the community colleges were never enthusiastic about incorporating CAM in placement decisions. Once again, we find that more alignment of K-16 policy does not necessarily occur within a more consolidated governance structure.

Community College Enrollment Explodes But Federal Support Does Not Keep Up

According to the US Department of Education enrollment at our 1,045 community colleges grew  by 741% from 1963 to 2006 compared with 197% at public four year colleges. From 2000 to 2005 community college enrollment grew by 4.2 million students. This is astounding enrollment growth, but federal aid for students to attend has not kept up. According to the Delta Project on College Costs , federal aid to community colleges is one third of the amount given per full time equivalent student to public four year colleges. This makes a  good case for the Obama Administrations’ new focus on community colleges, but it is unclear whether more federal aid will be forthcoming after the stimulus package. Obama’s 2010 budget did not have much to close the gap between 2 and 4 year colleges.

Chicago AP and IB Graduates Do Not Go To Selective Colleges

  A study by the Consortium On Chicago School Research raises troubling questions about navigating the road from high school to college. Half of the graduates of Chicago’ selective enrollment high schools with honors, AP, and IB courses did not enroll in colleges that match their qualifications, and 17% did not enroll in any college. These students lacked the expert advice to take full advantage of their academic attainment, and were first generation college students. This demonstrates how many pieces must come together to help students navigate the college puzzle. Study is at

Linking K12 Assessment To College Outcome Assessment Is Needed

Prior blog recommends book by Richard Shavelson on better ways to assess what students learn in college. He is the co-creator of the Collegiate Learning Assessment that measures cross cutting skills like analysis and synthesis. CLA is being used by more colleges to assess seniors. K-12 assessments need to examine this new movement in colleges. CLA is far removed from the multiple choice format that is so widely used in statewide k12 assessments, so the gap will grow between the assessment concepts used by k-12 and colleges.

How To Measure Learning In College

Measuring College Learning Responsibly
Accountability in a New Era

Richard J. Shavelson

Accrediting boards, the federal government and state legislatures are now requiring a greater level of accountability from higher education. However, current accountability practices, including accreditation, No Child Left Behind, and performance reporting are inadequate to the task. If wielded indiscriminately, accountability can actually do more harm than good. This innovative work looks broadly at how accountability is being considered by campuses, accrediting boards, higher education organizations, and governments in the US and abroad. It explores how new demands for accountability and new technologies are changing the way student learning is assessed.

The author, one of the most respected assessment researchers in the nation, provides a framework for assessing student learning and discusses historical and contemporary debates in the field. He details new directions in assessment, such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment he helped develop, analyzes exemplary campus assessment programs, and proposes considerations necessary for designing successful accountability systems.

More info at:

Disarray In College General Education Requirements Provides Scant Guidance For K12 Preparation

  The American Association of Colleges and Universities has a new report showing little consensus and much flux in college general education requirements.  Only 11% of colleges report they are not making changes in general ed now, or made them recently. Carol Schneider head of AAC&U said distribution requirements at many colleges are seen as something to get through, not significant intellectual experiences- general ed is a confusing passageway to college. How can k-12 prepare students for college if the colleges have no intellectual core? Yes, there are general skills needed for college, but we need a seamless k-14 course underpinning to help guide secondary school course sequences. See report at

Governance Of Education Is Shattered Between k12 And Postsecondary Education

The last several blogs have examined the disjuncture between k12 and broad access postsecondary education for teacher education, curriculum, and community colleges. This one focuses on goverance, but all four together make a compelling case. Students are caught between the misalignment of the two systems, and often cannot succeed becuse the two systems cannot work together for better college preparation.

Agencies governing high schools and postsecondary institutions have evolved along with the institutions themselves. From 1950 to 1980, higher education grew so dramatically that the need for increased state coordination became a priority. In 1940, the majority of states did not have a higher education governing, coordinating, or planning agency with responsibility for all public higher education. By 1979, all states had such an agency (Richardson et al., 1999). In 1940, 70% of public campuses had their own board, but by 1976, only 30% did. State subsystems developed as branch campuses of major public universities, and as a way to govern former normal schools that had been under state boards of education. But these postsecondary statewide agencies were not linked with K-12 governance or policymaking. New higher education state bureaucracies operated in isolation from their K-12 counterparts as regulations grew from 1960 to 1980 at both levels. Richardson, Bracco, Callan, and Finney (1999) stated that “A 1969 study of 12 large states found little political or budget conflict between K-12 and postsecondary education. The two levels basically ignored each other and proceeded in their separate ways (p.9).

In addition, the structure and organization of state legislative committees responsible for education traditionally reinforce the divide between K-12 and postsecondary education. Georgia and New York have separate K-12 and higher education committees in both houses, while Oregon and Florida have committees that oversee both (in both houses). Florida does have K-20 committees, and it will be important to learn from their work over time. Having separate bodies makes policymaking and appropriating funds across sectors very difficult. Appropriations committees are of crucial importance, and they usually have different subcommittees, making it virtually impossible to change the status quo. Higher education governance structures, in general, can be a major impediment to K-16 reform. The variation in state higher education governance is quite large. Some states, such as California have three tiers, while Georgia has a single Board of Regents governing community colleges through research universities. The ways these bodies interact with each other, and with K-12, depend on the history and culture of each state.

Community Colleges Move Away From K12 And Students Suffer

Just as teachers’ colleges moved away from K-12 education over the past century, community colleges have distanced themselves from secondary schools. Today, over 45% of undergraduates attend a community college, an increase of 10% in the last decade . This number has been increasing because of heavy use of community colleges in fast growing states like California, Texas, and Florida. California, for example, enrolls two-thirds of its college freshmen into the community college system . After 1960, community colleges became the primary institution for increasing college opportunity. Originally, community colleges were funded like public schools with mostly local support, state supplements, and no tuition. In California, community colleges originated as part of the local K-12 system and were considered the 13th and 14th grades. For some students, however, the four-year systems dictated much of their curricula in order to facilitate transfer . It was not until the 1950s that community colleges across the nation began to have their own governing boards and some were termed junior colleges. Between 1950 and 1970, the number of community colleges more than doubled and enrollment increased from 217,000 to 1,630,000. Between 1969 and 1974, community college enrollment increased by 174 percent contrasted to 47 percent for four-year institutions .

This growth was accompanied by a much expanded mission and a loss of interaction with and focus on secondary education. The colleges expanded their mission to vocational education and community service. New and neglected populations beyond recent high school graduates were added, including displaced housewives, immigrants, older adults, and laid-off industrial workers. The comprehensive community college sent fewer and less clear signals to high school students about necessary academic preparation and skills needed to obtain vocational certificates. The impact of this detachment from secondary education has been profound, with many students entering community college unprepared for its demands. For example, 95 percent of first-time students enrolled in Baltimore City Community Colleges (BCCC) in the fall of 2000 required remediation in math, English, and reading. Nationally, about 60 percent of students entering community colleges require remediation, a major risk factor for non-completion of degree or certificate programs (Adelman, 2001). Of all the English and math courses offered at the community college, 29 percent and 32 percent, respectively, are remedial (Cohen and Brawer, 2003). The majority of the students enrolled in these remedial courses (60%) are of traditional college age and enter the college directly after high school. This implies that the high level of remediation is not just a result of having to refresh the skills of individuals who have been out of school for a while, but also of having to teach skills that were not received in high school. Increasingly, four-year institutions transfer their remediation to community colleges. At least ten states currently discourage four-year universities from offering remedial education by not providing state funding .

Compounding this remediation problem is the fact that many of the students who enter community colleges today fit the characteristics of those who are less likely to have access to college information and preparation. Community colleges serve a large proportion of low-income, ethnic minority, and first-generation college students (Tinto, 2004). According to Stanford’s Bridge Project, student’s from lower SES levels and ethnic minority students are less likely to receive college counseling, be placed in college-preparation courses, and obtain information about college admissions and placement (Kirst and Venezia, 2004).

The lack of college preparation and information possessed by students entering community college is reflected in low transfer and degree completion rates. Although 71 percent of beginning community college students plan to obtain a bachelor’s degree, only about 25 percent transfer to a four-year school (Bradburn and Hurst, 2001). Several studies demonstrate that students who enter community colleges and seek a four-year degree have much lower completion rates than students who proceed directly to a four-year school (Fry, 2004; Cabrera, 2004). Whereas 63 percent of students attending a four-year school earn a bachelor’s degree, only 18% of those who begin in a community college do so (Wellman, 2002).

Despite low transfer and completion rates, community colleges continue to be an attractive option because of their proximity to students’ residence, low enrollment fees, and “open door” policy that admits students with few entrance standards. Unfortunately, students often mistake the “open door” policy to mean that the college has few academic standards. High school students often believe that they are free to enter any community college-level courses, they choose. (Rosenbaum, 2001). However, community colleges often use placement exams for specialties like nursing as well as for general subjects. Stanford’s Bridge Project found that most secondary school students going to community colleges were unaware of college placement standards, and thought their minimal high school graduation standards were adequate preparation (Kirst, Venezia, and Antonio, 2004). High school students view community college as a souped-up high school, even though community colleges must align their courses to four-year transfer standards. Most beginning students do not even learn that they need to take a placement exam until they enter the community college. High school counseling for prospective community college students is particularly weak. They are not told that their high school achievement will affect the amount of time it will take for them to finish transfer requirements, thus decreasing their chances of ever completing college. In short, the colleges that are closest to high school students have stepped as far away from them, with respect to academic preparation, as any four-year institution.

Historical Evolution Of The Curriculum Disjuncture Between K-12 And Postsecondary Education

The origin of the fissure between lower and higher education in the United States stems, in part, from the laudable way the nation created education systems to deliver curriculum for both K-12 and higher education. In the 1890’s there was no organized system or common standards for college admission. Nearly half the colleges had either low entrance requirements or none at all (Ravitch, 2000, p.41). Some colleges accepted students from pre-approved secondary schools or used their own exams. High school educators wanted a more uniform and less haphazard system. In 1892, the National Education Association appointed the nation’s first blue ribbon education commission to recommend secondary school academic standards. The commission included five college presidents, a college professor and the U.S. Commissioner of Education (Ravitch, 2000). The Committee of Ten was chaired by Charles W. Eliot, President of Harvard.

The committee envisioned only a tiny proportion of high school graduates going on to college. But the report recommended all pupils should be prepared for any path in life by “melding the objectives of liberal education (i.e. a curriculum of rich content) and mental discipline (i.e. the training of the mind”) (Ravitch, 2003, p.43). The Committee of Ten supported adding subjects like history, the sciences, and classical languages (e.g. Latin) that would be taught through active learning instead of memorization. The report was attacked for its support of an academic education for all students, and some critics praised the European approach of different schools based on career choices of pre-teens.

The Committee of Ten’s report influenced education policy and led to the College Examination Board with its common college examination for diverse colleges. But by 1918 a new report with a very different vision appeared, called the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education. High school enrollments were expanding and many students were viewed as incapable of learning the traditional academic curriculum (Tyack and Cuban, 1995).

The Cardinal Principles were to be a blueprint for social efficiency, and students should be offered vocational training and courses on family life, good health, citizenship, ethical character, and the worthy use of leisure. Students were given intelligence tests to put them in the appropriate academic track. The expanded and differentiated curriculum would retain more bored secondary students and better adapt them to a changing society.

Traditional academic subjects and pedagogy was deemphasized, but courses multiplied to provide something practical and engaging that would retain students in high school. This influential report helped spawn a shopping mall high school that lacked coherence and was not focused upon adequate college preparation for most students (Power, Farrar, and Cohen, 1985). National groups starting in the 1950’s have tried to push the high school curriculum closer to the 1893 Committee of Ten’s vision with mixed results (Kirst and Venezia, 2004). In sum, the American comprehensive high school was designed for many – often conflicting – purposes, and did not focus primarily on college preparation. Today’s comprehensive high school was designed to include, vocational education, the worthy use of leisure, ad many elective courses. High quality college preparation could be relegated to a minority of students, in a track of challenging courses, that now feature advanced placement and honors. Over time the chasm between secondary and postsecondary education in the United States has grown greater than that in many other industrialized nations (Clark, 1985), but before the development of comprehensive high schools, U.S. colleges and universities did play an important role in influencing high school curriculum. In 1900, for example, the College Board set uniform standards for each academic subject and issued a syllabus to help high school students prepare for college entrance subject-matter examinations. Soon after, the University of California began to accredit high schools to make sure that their curricula were adequate for university preparation. As the number of high schools grew rapidly, however, universities could no longer do accreditation. After the number of postsecondary institutions expanded greatly, the regional high school accrediting associations split with higher education accreditation to lessen the workload, but doing so de-emphasized K-16 alignment.

Moreover, in the years after World War II, the notion of academic standards shared across the sectors vanished. “Aptitude” tests like the SAT replaced subject-matter standards for college admission, and secondary schools placed more emphasis on elective courses in nonacademic areas. Today, K-12 faculty and college faculty may belong to the discipline-based professional organizations, but they rarely meet to discuss curricular alignment. K-12 policymakers and higher education policymakers cross paths even less often. It was not until 1982 that the Carnegie Foundation organized the first national meeting ever held between K-12 state school superintendents and college presidents to discuss the growing chasm between them. (Stocking, 1985, p.258). Many groups mediate between high schools and colleges, but they have competing agendas that tend to work against curricular alignment. The number and influence of mediating groups, such as College Board, Educational Testing Service, and American College Testing Program (ACT), is, for Stocking, an indicator of the “amount of disorder and confusion that has grown through the years in the relationship between the school and the university in America” (p. 263).

Today the nationally aligned standards effort across the sectors is the AP (Advanced Placement) program – a stalactite that extends from universities, which dictate the course syllabus and exam. The International Baccalaureate (IB) program attempts to align secondary and postsecondary curriculum, but its scope is limited. Some of the fastest growing courses are college courses in high school such as AP and remedial education in postsecondary education. This suggests that the better high school students are becoming more closely aligned with higher education through AP and IB, but the weaker students are becoming more disconnected. Beyond the AP and IB programs, there are no major efforts to provide curricular coherence and sequencing across secondary schools (Conley, 2005). Nor has anyone proposed a conception of liberal education that related the academic content of the secondary schools to the first two years of college. Instead, students face an eclectic academic muddle in Grades 10-14 (Orrill, 2000) until they select a college major.

Thus, the high school curriculum remains unmoored from the freshman and sophomore college curriculum and from any continuous vision of liberal education that would help students prepare for college coursework. For example, in California, “literature” is the focus of high school English course work for college preparation. But the initial community college courses focus upon grammar and writing, while the University of California stresses rhetoric. Nationally, the policymaking for K-16 has been more concerned with access to postsecondary education than with the academic preparation and college knowledge needed to complete a postsecondary degree or certificate. Access, rather than preparation, is also the theme of many of the professionals who mediate between the high schools and the colleges: high school counselors, college recruiters, and college admissions and financial aid officers.