Revising the Pedagogy of Developmental-Level Courses

Remediating Remediation

The article does a good job demonstrating how remedial or developmental-level courses are being revised and repackaged to increase their effectiveness for students. Sixty percent of community college students need to enroll in those courses. Public statements to simply eliminate the courses cannot occur if the U.S. is really committed to access and success for all students, especially those from historically underrepresented populations. Following is selected text from the article:

"Once students arrive on campus, their developmental education programs can be part of the problem. Too often, developmental courses involve worksheets and drills that are “deadly dull,” said Tom Brock, the director of Young Adults and Postsecondary Education for the MDRC, a policy-research organization in Oakland, Calif. Remedial courses don’t earn credit toward a degree, and the low expectations, inadequate tracking, and lack of support can leave students feeling demoralized. If the course content doesn’t bear relation to why they came to college, students can lose interest. Some colleges are addressing the dullness factor by developing fast-track programs in which students who need the least help can move along more quickly. Computer software can differentiate the instruction to each student’s needs, accelerating his or her learning.

At Zane State, President Paul Brown recognizes the importance of supporting students in that first year. Sustaining the college’s 15 percent growth rate is contingent on retaining students and working with the 75 percent who enter in need of developmental education, he said. If students can make it through the first year—often with additional supports—Zane State has found that 87 percent will graduate. To keep freshmen engaged, the college implemented an early-intervention system that identifies students who are repeating courses and provides support before they drop out. The college is also using technology and individualized instruction to tailor developmental education courses to students’ needs, Mr. Brown said.

Valencia Community College developed a Learning in Communities program for its developmental education students in which courses are paired, keeping a cohort of students together, and trained student learning leaders help organize study groups outside the classroom. Next fall, the college is planning to group 125 freshmen into a learning community working closely with four faculty members. They will move through developmental education together in the first term and co-enroll in college-credit courses in the second term, explained Nicholas Bekas, the project director of the Developmental Education Initiative on the campus. The graduation rate at Valencia rose from 35 percent to 43 percent between 2006 and 2010 for first-time, degree-seeking students. Among those with a developmental education mandate, the numbers are up from 16 percent to 21 percent in the same time frame.

The Gates Foundation is investing in effective models because too many students get lost in developmental education, and getting a college degree is what can transform lives, said Mark Milliron, the foundation’s deputy director for postsecondary improvement. “What [colleges] are doing now is painfully unsuccessful,” Mr. Milliron said. “The whole idea is to get in there early.” Several promising approaches are being developed, including working with high schools, providing deeper diagnosis to find academic areas of weakness, and designing modular, technology-assisted instruction to get students through developmental education faster, he said."