Dear Commons Community,
City University of New York is planning to implement an entire new remediation program by Fall 2018. All aspects of remediation including initial testing, courses, and final passing criteria will be reviewed. Presently, eighty percent of new freshmen admitted to CUNY community colleges require some remediation. The New York Times has a featured article this morning based on interviews with senior CUNY officials on possible new approaches to remediation. Here is an excerpt:
“Twenty-thousand new students arrived at public community colleges in New York City last fall only to be told they were not ready for college-level work. Instead, they were placed in remedial classes to complete the preparation they were supposed to have received in high school.
But for a significant portion of these students, remedial courses will not put them any closer to a degree. The courses take time and cost money — or consume a portion of a student’s financial aid — while offering no credits. Many students, frustrated that they are sitting in class without progressing toward a degree, drop out. It is a pattern replicated every year, not just in New York but at community colleges across the country.
Now, the City University of New York, the largest urban public university system in the United States, is moving to fundamentally rework its traditional remedial programs. Administrators hope program changes this year and in 2018 will make necessary catch-up less of a stumbling block, while ensuring that students who are in college-level classes are prepared to do the work.
“The notion is that if you can succeed in college, we want to help you get there,” said Vita C. Rabinowitz, executive vice chancellor and university provost at CUNY. “No artificial barriers or screening devices. It’s a matter of true college readiness.”
Dr. Rabinowitz said that about 80 percent of freshman entering community college in the CUNY system require remediation in reading, writing, math, or some combination of those subjects. Students of color are twice as likely to be assessed as needing remediation as white students. But at the end of one year, only half of all students in remediation have advanced out of those classes. The need for remediation is a chronic problem at community colleges around the country as students graduate from high school without the skills they need for college.
“We had outcomes that were in line with national averages, which is to say very disappointing,” Dr. Rabinowitz said. The system, she said, was not working. “And if that’s not working, then CUNY is not working.”
One fundamental shift CUNY is planning will address how students are assigned to remedial courses. Traditionally, most students entering CUNY community colleges take placement tests in reading, writing and math, which determines who needs help. But researchers and college administrators around the country worry that these tests put people in remedial classes who could have done well without them.
In fact, ACT, the testing company, withdrew its placement test from the market last year over such concerns. Ed Colby, a spokesman for the company said that the test, called Compass, and others like it, were not placing students where they should be. Students who had been out of high school for a few years when they took the exam were particularly likely to be unnecessarily steered toward remediation, Mr. Colby said.
For now, CUNY has switched to a different test — ACCUPLACER, which is a College Board exam — but the plan is to incorporate other measures as well. David Crook, associate university provost for academic affairs at CUNY, said they were considering looking at students’ grades in relevant classes, or perhaps their overall grade point average. They hope to have a new system in place for the fall of 2018.
CUNY has also put in place an automatic retesting policy for those who score just below the passing cutoff on the math and reading placement tests. Since the option was put in place last fall, about 550 students have taken advantage of it on the reading exam, and of those, 49 percent passed on their second try. Three hundred students retook the math test, and of those students, 55
The way students qualify to be promoted out of remediation is changing, as well. Until recently, CUNY required students to pass remediation courses and then pass a test, a fairly unusual requirement. Now, administrators say, students will just have to pass the course. The final test, which they will still take, will count for up to 35 percent of a course grade.
For those who still need remedial classes, there will be new requirements. In the past, those students all had to pass algebra, regardless of whether they planned to study English or economics. CUNY will now require all of its associate degree programs to offer an alternative to remedial algebra, like quantitative reasoning or statistics.
“It doesn’t make sense to prevent students from taking college-level courses because they don’t have skills that they won’t use,” said Thomas Bailey, a professor of economics and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College and the director of the Community College Research Center. “These are legitimate college-level math courses,” he said of alternatives like statistics. “They’re just different.”
CUNY administrators acknowledged that there has been some resistance, particularly from some members of the math faculty who believe algebra to be foundational, something all educated adults should master. Dr. Rabinowitz said the reticence has not come from its highest performing community colleges.
“Community college structures were built around the need for remediation, a very large need for remediation,” Dr. Rabinowitz said, citing such institutional basics as course schedules, departmental structures and faculty hiring. “Disrupting this is truly disrupting how big organizations operate, and that’s stressful.”
For those interested in remediation at CUNY or elsewhere, the article is well worth a read. How new CUNY policies and procedures evolve will be followed closely particularly by faculty who teach in these programs. Their involvement in decision making will be crucial for a smooth transition.