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Last week more than 100 City University of New York faculty members, staffers and administrators gathered for a conference in Manhattan to discuss how to improve results for students considered academically unprepared for college. There has been substantial research suggesting that “remedial” classes act as more of a barrier than a passageway to earning a college degree.

Particularly striking was a presentation by Katie Hern, who runs the California Acceleration Project, an effort to change the way California’s community colleges structure their remedial classes.

More than three-quarters of community college students in California are classified as “unprepared” for college when they arrive, according to placement tests. At many of the colleges, students must take remedial classes before they are allowed to enroll in college-level math and English courses. The problem is, once they pass through the remedial levels, most of them still don’t pass college math.

Only 35 percent of the highest-level remedial students (who finish all their remedial classes) go on to pass an introductory college-level math class within three years. Among students dubbed the least prepared when they begin, only 6 percent get through college math.

Related: Most colleges enroll many students who aren’t prepared for higher education

Some colleges have begun trying alternative approaches. In her presentation, Hern reported new data from Cuyamaca College, near San Diego, which got rid of most of its remedial classes last fall. The college implemented a “co-requisite” model, allowing most students to go directly into a college-level math class while taking a support class at the same time. The results? More than two-thirds of all students passed the regular math class on their first try – and 62 percent of students who would have been classified as the lowest level passed. Hern said that no changes were made to the regular math class requirements.

“Cuyamaca is really showing what’s possible for the rest of California,” said Hern, who also teaches at Chabot College, one of California’s 113 community colleges. “They knew things were bad, but they didn’t know it could be better until they tried it.”

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  1. Hi Meredith.
    I am a 30-year veteran teacher for students with disabilities in the NYCDoE, and earned all my teaching degrees through the CUNY system. While I applaud the system for taking on a behemoth of a problem to remediate remediation at the college level, I was dismayed to read that Katie Hern is being applauded as some hero. Accolades ought to be given to the field of special education and all the teachers that have modeled this type of teaching for decades but are being pushed out of their jobs. Hern’s method is not new, nor innovative, but co-opted, and I’m surprised that out of 100 faculty members and staff from CUNY nobody recognized this (or they did and are in denial or couldn’t care). Ironically, the NYCDOE decided to slowly, and systematically leverage Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS, the service that thousands of teachers use as Hern’s “alternative approach”) out of the picture for middle and high schools over the last few years which is partially why remediation is on the rise in community and senior colleges. Many of the students that need remediation in grades 6-12 were likely IEP students in the public school system that were being forced to complete bogus credit recovery courses online with no real mentoring, tutoring, or teaching going on. In other words, university problems stem from deeper systemic problems with the delivery models of remediation in the earlier grades. Another irony is that college students now have to actually pay for the parallel courses which were free had they been allowed as a service on their IEPs (yes, teachers were coerced by administrators not to offer the service any longer) and given throughout their 6-12 grade school years. Of course, the real twist is that colleges do not have to front the bill, the students do, and since there is no money to be made in k-12 education by giving away free services, budgetary matters are mitigated via computer-based learning (which does NOT work!) for recovery credits and teachers lose their jobs to “outside projects.” I’m surprised that vouchers weren’t being given out to fund the project, or is the California Accelerated Project funded via a voucher system? Academicians and policy makers ought to be ashamed that focus is not being placed on public schools to remediate.

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