Posts published in February, 2011

Some College Students Need Contextualized Math Courses To Succed

Effective Basic Skills Instruction: The Case for Contextualized Developmental Math
by W. Charles Wiseley.

As the state emerges from another recession, jobs that remain and those opening require workers with higher-order skills most often acquired in postsecondary education. Increasing numbers of adults look to community colleges to learn those skills and to fi nd a way out of a cycle of low paying, unstable jobs. Even workers with years of experience see community colleges as a mechanism to keep their jobs by increasing their skill levels and their appeal to employers. Recent research on students entering California community colleges found that less than one in ten students who enter at the basic arithmetic or pre-algebra math level successfully complete college-level math. Students entering at the next higher level of math (elementary algebra) are only slightly more likely to succeed in college-level math. Yet, college-level math skills are required for success in nearly all college programs including most occupationally-focused certificate programs. Overall, fewer than 20 percent of remedial math students who do not complete a college level math course earn a certificate, degree, or transfer to a four-year university within six years.

Beginning in 2006, California community colleges, through changes in regulations designed to strengthen the core curriculum for the associate degree, began to eliminate many occupationally-focused and “contextualized” math courses such as “Business Math” and “Technical Math for Airframe Mechanics.” These integrated courses often focus on the mathematics required in specific occupations, starting with basic arithmetic or pre-algebra and progressing into intermediate algebra topics, and have significantly higher success rates than traditional math courses. Unfortunately, the pressure for traditional academic courses has eliminated many of these contextualized courses, as they no longer meet the requirements for the associate degree. But the low success rates that are common in remedial math courses in the academic model mean that few students will be able to acquire the occupational skills necessary to complete an advanced occupational course, certificate, or degree. In this policy brief, Charles Wiseley documents both the scarcity and the effectiveness of contextualized developmental math in the 110 public California Community Colleges (CCC) during the 2006-2007 academic year.

New Paper On How To Disrupt A Broken College Business Model

Last week, in conjunction with the Center for American Progress, Clayton Christensen and I released our latest white paper titled, “Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education.”

Coauthored with Louis Caldera and Louis Soares, the paper turns its eye to addressing the significant problems the United State’s institutions of higher education now face. America’s colleges and universities are strapped for resources, students and families are faced with eye-popping tuition increases, and we are falling behind other developed nations in postsecondary attainment. The traditional business model of higher education is broken.

In this paper, we analyze how disruptive innovation can bring quality and true affordability to higher education.

Read the executive summary and download “Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education” from our website.

We hope this frames a conversation to allow us to make much needed progress. Given the dependence of our K-12 system on our higher education system, if we hope to fix many of the problems that have seemed intractable in K-12 education, fixing the higher education system is vital.

Michael B. Horn

Arizona State Tries To Save Money Through Shorter Classes

From ECS:

Arizona State University To Offer More Short Classes
The 15-week semesters are a long-standing tradition on university campuses. But Arizona State University plans to add more courses that can be completed in half of that time. By squeezing just as many class hours into a 7 1/2-week course, students could finish a course faster, graduate faster and pay less in tuition. The university’s bottom line could benefit if enrollment increases. (Arizona Republic, 02/22/11)

Gates Funds State Competition For College Completion

Starting today, Governors from all 50 states are invited to take up the Completion Innovation Challenge, a new competitive grant program from Complete College America with funding support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

States that demonstrate a commitment to develop and deploy innovative, state-wide strategies to substantially increase college completion are eligible to earn one of ten $1 million, 18-month implementation grants.

Complete College America aims to leverage the Completion Innovation Challenge grants to inspire states to new thinking and action in key policy areas essential for real and lasting impact:

  • Shifting to Performance Funding to reward for more student success, not just higher headcounts.
  • Reducing Time-to-Degree to accelerate achievement, prevent damaging delays, and cut costs.
  • Restructuring Delivery for Today’s Students to help the new majority of students balance the jobs they need with the higher education they desire.
  • Transforming Remediation to move students into first-year, full-credit classes as quickly as possible so precious time, motivation and money are not lost.
  • Deploying Transformative Technology to customize, accelerate and support student learning for added convenience, efficiency and affordability. 

Study Shows Mixed Results For Grade 8 Algebra

College readiness can be enhanced by success in algebra 1. According to 2010 statewide test data, since 2003 California schools have increased by 80% the number of students taking Algebra I in 8th grade. That change has been most dramatic among low-income, African American, and Latino students, many of whom did not previously have access to the course in the middle grades.

A new study from EdSource makes clear, however, that while the state’s push to put students into Algebra I in 8th grade has opened up opportunities for many, it has also had some negative consequences. The analysis included almost 70,000 8th grade students from 303 California schools and 195 school districts. About a quarter of the students scored below basic or far below basic on the Grade 7 Mathematics CST, and of these students about three in ten were placed in Algebra I in 8th grade. The vast majority of these students scored below the basic level when they took the Algebra I CST.

The new analysis is a follow-up to a 2010 research project—Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades. Again working with research partners from Stanford University and the American Institutes for Research (AIR), EdSource has just released Improving Middle Grades Mathematics Performance. Its centerpiece is an analysis that used longitudinal student data to examine the relationship between students’ 7th grade math scores on the California Standards Tests (CSTs), their 8th grade mathematics placements, and their subsequent performance on either the Algebra I CST or the General Mathematics CST.

The authors conclude that, for the state’s most prepared math students (as measured by their 7th grade CST scores), placement into Algebra I in grade 8 appears to have served them well, with these students generally (but not always) scoring proficient or higher on the Algebra I CST. And smaller numbers of 8th graders beat the odds by scoring highly on the state’s Algebra I test despite having relatively low prior-year CST scores.

However, placing all 8th graders into Algebra I, regardless of their preparation, sets up many students to fail. In the EdSource study sample, almost one third of students who scored at the two lowest levels on the state’s 7th grade math test were placed into Algebra I in 8th grade—with almost no chance for success. Schools serving predominantly low-income students were more likely to make these types of placement decisions than schools serving predominantly middle-income students.

The specific findings:

  • Eighth graders’ incoming math preparation varied widely, yet many with low levels of preparedness were placed into a full Algebra I course.
  • Schools serving mostly low-income students placed higher percentages of students into Algebra I than did schools serving mostly middle-income students.
  • The most-prepared students typically took Algebra I in grade 8, and they generally scored proficient or higher on the Algebra I CST.
  • Moderately prepared students, if placed in Algebra I, generally did not score proficient or higher on the Algebra I CST in 8th grade—though most scored at least basic.
  • The least-prepared students, if placed in Algebra I, generally did not even score at the basic level.

Summary Of Governor’s Higher Education Themes In State Of State Messages

Each year, most governors address a joint meeting of their legislative bodies to articulate their vision for the state and to outline key public policy priorities in the upcoming legislative session. Taken together, these addresses provide insight into the national policy dynamics for state governments.

For higher education leaders, these addresses often forecast the governor’s higher education agenda and forthcoming policy initiatives. Key themes stemming from this year’s addresses include higher education’s role in economic development and job creation, state aid to higher education and college degree completion. Governors have also outlined new policy priorities aimed at improving institutional performance, maintaining state operating support for public universities and advancing student success.

Provided below is a compilation of key higher education themes and policy proposals included in governors’ state of the state addresses to date. To view the full analysis, including a state-by-state summary of gubernatorial higher education priorities, click the link below.

AASCU Report: 2011 State of the State Addresses and Higher Education

Governor Wants To Create a Birth to College Education Board

Governor John Kitzhaber aims to fix Oregon’s broken school funding system by consolidating power and money into a single board for all levels of education – a board that he would chair. The governor ordered the creation of an  investment team to design the framework for an Oregon Education Investment Board that would oversee education for children from birth through college. See ECS’ summary of  P-20 governance. Florida created someting similar under Governor Jeb Bush several years ago.

Complete College America Gives Advice To College Trustees

As states consider new legislation and policies to increase college completion, we believe these essential tests must be applied:

  • Will this approach reduce the time it takes to graduate? 
  • Will it direct students in making  an informed, transparent choice, clearly consistent with their aspirations? 
  • Will it provide more predictability and structure in order to ease their daily struggles to balance work and school?

If the answers are yes, please proceed urgently argues Complete College America’s president, Stan Jones, in this new article in the latest issue of Trusteeship magazine. 

Counter to intuition and contrary to best intentions — by letting the clock run, providing nearly endless choices, and allowing flexibility to rule, we may be simply providing many students the freedom to fail.

Achieving The Dream? Did It Work?


‘Achieving the Dream’ produces little change at community colleges
By Jennifer Gonzalez, the Chronicle of Higher Education
Seven years into an ambitious project by Lumina Foundation to help more community-college students stay enrolled and graduate, a study has found that while colleges have changed their practices significantly, student outcomes have remained relatively unchanged.

This judgement based on student attainment may not be fair to Achieving the Dream which was designed to increase data use in community colleges as a first step toward higher student completion. Data may be a necessary , but not sufficient condition, and cannot overcome very poor secondary school preparation.

Columbia Study Questions Accuracy Of Community College Placement Tests

Assessing Developmental Assessment in Community Colleges (CCRC Working Paper No. 19, Assessment of Evidence Series)

By: Katherine L. Hughes & Judith Scott-Clayton — February 2011. New York: Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University

Placement exams are high-stakes assessments that determine many students’ college trajectories. The majority of community colleges use placement exams—most often the ACCUPLACER, developed by the College Board, or the COMPASS, developed by ACT, Inc.—to sort students into college-level or developmental education courses in math, reading, and sometimes writing. More than half of entering students at community colleges are placed into developmental education in at least one subject as a result. But the evidence on the predictive validity of these tests is not as strong as many might assume, given the stakes involved—and recent research fails to find evidence that the resulting placements into remediation improve student outcomes.

While this has spurred debate about the content and delivery of remedial coursework, it is possible that the assessment process itself may be broken; the debate about remediation policy is incomplete without a fuller understanding of the role of assessment. This paper examines the extent of consensus regarding the role of developmental assessment and how it is best implemented, the validity of the most common assessments currently in use, and emerging directions in assessment policy and practice. Alternative methods of assessment—particularly those involving multiple measures of student preparedness—seem to have the potential to improve student outcomes, but more research is needed to determine what type of change in assessment and placement policy might improve persistence and graduation rates. The paper concludes with a discussion of gaps in the literature and implications for policy and research.

–Download this paper by clicking on the PDF icon below. A summary version, CCRC Brief No. 50, is also available for download.

» An introduction to the Assessment of Evidence Series