Amy Doty and Phip Ross
With as much research and data that has been generated in the last 10 years on developmental education, one would imagine conclusions would be clearer. This academic year, the Nebraska Developmental Education Consortium (NDEC) hosted Alexandros Goudas, who guided us through his assessment of research that he has invested in for much of the last decade. At the same time we started following Goudas’s work at the outset of his publishing in 2012 with Hunter Boylan, who founded NOSS (formerly NADE) we sought consultation with Katie Hern, the California Acceleration Project (CAP) co-founder for shaping our redesign at Southeast Community College (SCC).
At CAP and other conferences, Hern is known for awarding the title “Honey Badger” to individuals who go all in on eliminating developmental coursework. Goudas and Hern are both dedicated educators and leaders who have strong opinions. As the data roll out, neither have wavered in their positions. There have been heated, unprofessional debates from folks from what can only be called “camps” we have witnessed online and at national conference breakout sessions.
Those of us whose primary concern is not an argument but what works best for our students, need credible, unbiased voices that look at the research first and form conclusions or next questions. For the work to be legitimate, we need inquiry models that are just that: open, honest, and searching. This requires flexibility to shift with what the data are showing.
In late April, Hern, responding to a faculty member’s opinion piece “Don’t Eliminate Remedial Education in Community Colleges,” pushes back against data that is showing declines in completion with the co-requisite-only model she is advocating by state law.
In her concession about data that show success rates “modestly” declining, her rebuttal is that this data leaves out students who first took remedial classes. Well, they isolated that population from her data because they are measuring the success of directly-placed students with no “remediation.” To include those students would skew the data. With respect, she’s making the very “sleight-of-hand” move she accuses opponents of in the same paragraph.
Hern writes: “Opponents point out that success rates in transfer-level courses declined after AB 705, and this is true. There have been modest declines. But this data omits all of the students who took remedial courses. When you include all students, you see that tens of thousands of additional students completed key requirements for a college degree.” By Hern’s own admission, the number of students benefiting from these developmental courses increases the overall success rates statewide.
In a recent Inside Higher Education opinion article, “Remediation is Not the Enemy,” John Schlueter reviews 2019 research that advocates for the co-requisite-only model. Schlueter points to another “sleight-of-hand” move. Proponents of co-requisite models focus on the different pass rates for the college-level courses: Students in a co-req course pass college-level math at a higher rate than those who first start in a remedial course.
But that same data, Schleuter points out, shows students who took remedial coursework had a 65 percent pass rate with 82 percent graduating or transferring, compared to the 61 percent in the co-req model and 45 percent graduating or transferring. “Based on these data, to conclude that remediation is an obstacle to student success is misguided,” he concludes. “If we convince ourselves that progress means eliminating the learning opportunities that remedial coursework clearly provides, because they are ‘exit points’ for vulnerable students, then we will continue to overlook the types of reform that really move the needle on student success.”
The crux of the matter comes back to what Goudas emphasizes, and that is to focus upon what the purpose of developmental education is: To prepare students to succeed at an equal (often better) rate than those directly placed. Based on NDEC’s March webinar discussion of co-requisite models in our colleges, the “model” is not singular, but multiple and measured. To illustrate, if a financial advisor was consulting you on your best outcomes, they often say to diversify your investments, be patient, and modify as needed. In other words, don’t go all in on one stock even if, especially if, a broker is pushing their product. Providing a variety of pathways toward the same end goal—student success—is at the heart of creating a ‘diversified portfolio’ of options for students.
Goudas leads our NOSS Research Network and recently put together a valuable resource in the form of an annotated bibliography. In an email to NDEC with the bibliography, he provides a clear-eyed conclusion: “As evidence that stand-alone prerequisite remediation and developmental education are effective and should remain an option in post-secondary institutions, particularly two-year public colleges . . .”
“[These studies] use statistical controls and show strong positive results for students who participated in stand-alone remediation and developmental education. And these positive results range in outcomes, from higher first-year course pass rates to the more important metrics of transfer and degree completion, both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. Moreover, these studies are not from a single research organization or interest group, and they are published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals.
Based on these and many other studies, it is difficult to conclude that the current narrative for remediation and developmental education is true (that they are complete barriers and should be eliminated). In fact, a solid base of research demonstrates the opposite.
Current and past evidence strongly suggests that stand-alone prerequisite remediation and developmental education can and should remain a positive part of a holistic system of student success.”
We would argue that co-requisite models and developmental models do not mutually exclude one another. This is, indeed, a case where ‘both/and’ thinking prevails over the ‘either/or’ mindset. Students’ needs are not one size fits all, and so it follows that the approaches we use to support their learning can and should be as dynamic as possible to support a range of different experiences.
Turk, J. M. (2019). Estimating the impact of developmental education on associate degree completion: A dose–response approach. Research in Higher Education, 60, 1090–1112. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-019-09549-9
“Overall, when two groups of statistically similar students were compared, developmental education generally improved the chances of earning an associate degree” (abstract).
Saw, G. K. (2019). Remedial enrollment during the 1st year of college, institutional transfer, and degree attainment. Journal of Higher Education, 90(2), 298–321. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00221546.2018.1493668
“For 2-year college students, remediation enrollment in both mathematics and English improved the likelihood of transferring to a 4-year college and earning a bachelor’s degree” (abstract).
Sanabria, T., Penner, A. & Domina, T. (2020). Failing at remediation? College remedial coursetaking, failure and long-term student outcomes. Research in Higher Education, 61, 459–484. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-020-09590-z
“Taking remediation is associated with a nearly nine percentage-point increase in bachelor’s degree completion for 2-year college students after accounting for demographic, familial, and academic background characteristics” (p. 474).
Paulson, E. J., & Van Overschelde, J. P. (2021). Accelerated integrated reading and writing: A statewide natural experiment. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 45(1), 13–30. https://naspa.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/
“Using our most precise samples and a quasi-experimental methodology, we found that students in the non-accelerated SD Reading and SD Writing courses were more likely to pass their first college-level intensive course than students who took the accelerated INRW course” (p. 22).
Goudas, A. M. (2018). Rethinking the corequisite model: What is it, why remedial English and mathematics, and what is its net effect? Journal of College Academic Support Programs, 1(2), 48–50. https://digital.library.txstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10877/7923/Issue2-OPED1.pdf
“The goal should be to increase success rates throughout college for at-risk students by addressing the actual causes of fail rates and attrition instead of eliminating helpful courses” (49).
Amy Doty and Phip Ross are co-chairs of Southeast Community College’s English Department in Lincoln, members of NDEC’s Leadership Team, and members of NOSS and the NOSS IRW Network.