Posted: 9:00 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012

Ohio adopts standards for remedial education

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Ohio is looking to radically reduce the number of college freshmen taking remedial math and English classes, which are expensive to offer, do not appear to contribute to higher graduation rates and hike college costs for students because the courses don’t count toward their degrees.

By Meagan Pant

Staff Writer

Ohio is looking to radically reduce the number of college freshmen taking remedial math and English classes, which are expensive to offer, do not appear to contribute to higher graduation rates and hike college costs for students because the courses don’t count toward their degrees.

The changes come as remedial classes are getting increased scrutiny as Ohio emphasizes improving graduation rates, which is seen as necessary to attract more businesses looking for an educated workforce.

Ohio colleges and universities spent $146 million on remediation in 2010. That year, 41 percent of students who graduated from a public high school in Ohio and went to a public college in the state needed at least one remedial class, according to the Ohio Board of Regents.

“We need to fix that. We want to make sure that that number goes down radically,” said Brett Visger, deputy chancellor at the Ohio Board of Regents. “People don’t go to college to enroll in remedial courses. Remediation is a speed bump.”

Research has shown that students who begin their college career in those preparatory classes are far less likely to ever graduate.

Ohio has set a goal to “eliminate remediation for students entering college directly from high school” and compress the amount of time adults spend in remedial classes, according to the Complete College Ohio report, a compilation of recommendations unveiled by the Board of Regents last month. The recommendations include requiring preparation for placement tests and establishing a limit on how many times students can repeat remedial classes.

Last week, Ohio’s colleges and universities also agreed to a new ACT standard for high school students to opt out of the developmental classes. Under the standard, students who earn at least a 22 in math and an 18 in English are automatically placed in regular, non-developmental classes.

The new standards, which were required by Dec. 31, are now uniform for all Ohio public colleges and universities, said Tom Sudkamp, Wright State University provost.

“For the high school students, I think it’s a plus,” he said.

‘We lose students’

Nationwide, states and students spend more than $3 billion on remedial courses, but they “have little to show for it,” according to Complete College America, a national nonprofit.

In Ohio, about 59 percent of freshmen at two-year colleges need at least one preparatory course. Of those, fewer than half complete their remedial classes and only 6 percent graduate within three years, the nonprofit found. At four-year schools, a quarter of freshmen enroll in developmental courses. About 57 percent finish those classes and one-third graduate within six years.

“We lose students,” said Bruce Vandal, vice president of Complete College America. “Either they look at the hill they have to climb… and say I’m not going to do that, or somewhere along the way they drop out of the system. The end result is that very few students ever make it out of remediation.”

Developmental education won’t disappear at universities like Wright State, though the state is phasing out funding for them. Next fall, Wright State will begin enrolling students in “stretch” courses that will allow students to earn credit while they get remedial help, Sudkamp said.

The four-credit-hour stretch math and writing courses include one-credit-hour of remedial instruction. The school expects that as many as 400 students who would have taken a remedial math course will instead be enrolled in a math stretch course. Meanwhile, about 200 students could take stretch writing.

Central State University next fall will also change its remedial offerings by working with community college faculty on the university’s campus. The changes come as the university works to raise its admissions criteria and redesigns its general education program, said Willie Houston, associate vice president for academic affairs.

Visger said high schools need to better prepare students for the rigors of higher education. To that end, the state is replacing the Ohio Graduation Test with a nationally standardized college readiness test, he said, and requiring end-of-course exams that more clearly define expectations for college and career readiness.

‘We don’t reject students’

As Ohio looks to make changes to the remedial education system, it is looking to community colleges to take on an increased role.

“We don’t reject students. Our mission is about helping students come in and achieve their goals,” said Monica Posey, vice president of academics at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, which is testing new methods for delivering remedial courses.

“We definitely know that universities will be taking fewer and fewer students that need remediation, so we are the only option for those students. But we also hope the changes in the public school system will help prepare students,” she said.

Community colleges too are looking at ways to cut remedial time and costs for students. Sinclair Community College offers one-week boot camps in which students can brush up on a subject and, if they pass a final exam at the end of the week, avoid an entire semester of remediation, said Kathleen Cleary, associate provost for student success. The college is also combining its developmental reading and writing courses.

Sinclair is considered a model for having Adult Basic and Literacy Education classes on campus. Students who need multiple courses to be college ready are encouraged to enroll in the ABLE programs, which are provided at no cost.

“It’s absolutely a benefit to the student financially,” Cleary said.

Clark State Community College Dean Martha Crawmer said remedial courses provide an enormous benefit to students.

“Sometimes, it’s just that we take a student who was borderline in terms of being literate and the student can now fill out a job application,” she said. So, even if the student does not continue on to credit-bearing college courses, “we’ve still gotten a student that far.

“It does improve the general literacy of our population and allows the student to improve their own lives.”

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