Is the community college remedial system really working?

“… Recent research fails to find evidence that placement into remediation improves student outcomes. … While this has spurred debate about the content and delivery of remedial coursework, another possibility is that the assessment process itself may be broken.”

— The authors of Assessing Developmental Assessment in Community Colleges, cited by Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, who says students “are further deceived” by guidance they get telling them they can’t really fail placement tests.

The report comes as a hit to a $1billion system that can’t seem to take unprepared high school grads and turn them into college material.

In its own take, Education News summarizes a few of the report’s conclusions:

•     Assessments appear to be more successful in placing academically prepared students than in placing academically underprepared students.

•     Students who narrowly miss an assessment “cutoff” score and who complete remedial courses are no more likely to complete credit coursework than students with similar scores who continue straight to credit coursework without taking remedial classes first.

•     Multiple measures for placement, such as high school transcripts and written essays in addition to assessments, may improve placement accuracy, as might the use of more diagnostic and affective assessments.

  • Remedial education as we know it is broken. The entire enterprise of assessing students when they enroll in college, placing them in remedial courses and then delivering instruction are largely ineffective. However, there is a growing movement to change the system. There is more research about the problem and the strategies to improve it (the article referenced in the blog post is just one example.) In addition there are several national efforts to change the system that are achieving promising results. At the Education Commission of the States we have a project called Getting Past Go ( that is tracking all of these reforms across the nation and working with states to improve the policies. The fact is that if we are going to increase our global competitiveness through increased college attainment rates, then we need to fix remediation.