The following is an excerpt from my book, "Access at the crossroads" described in the left-hand column.
These classes—basic reading, elements of English, and basic arithmetic—assume students possess fundamental cognitive deﬁcits in need of remediation. These courses focus on academic content typically covered in middle school or early high school. At most institutions, these courses are a prerequisite before students may enroll in the next course in the academic sequence (Boylan, Bonham, and Bliss, 1994). Exit competencies of remedial courses generally prepare students for subsequent enrollment in a developmental course by teaching the needed skills and knowledge. For example, successful completion of a remedial course in fundamentals of mathematics provides a student with skills needed to enroll in an intermediate algebra course. Few students could complete the fundamentals of mathematics course and have a high chance of success in a college algebra course (Boylan, 2002b).
As described earlier in “History of Learning Assistance in U.S. Postsecondary Education,” four-year institutions offered remedial courses during the 1800s to meet the needs of students with poor or nonexistent secondary education (Maxwell, 1979). These remedial courses moved to the two-year colleges when they spread across the United States during the early 1900s (Cohen and Brawer, 2002).
Few national research studies concern the effectiveness of remedial courses. A common finding among these studies is that these courses must be more integrated into the culture of the institution and bundled with other learning assistance activities. If they are not, outcomes are mixed for most students (Kulik, Kulik, and Schwalb, 1983; Roueche and Roueche, 1993, 1999). It is unreasonable to expect to overcome years of inadequate education or ineffective student effort in high school with a single remedial course. Without the provision of remedial and developmental courses, however, students from impoverished backgrounds and poorly funded rural and urban schools have less hope for success in college.