remediating remediation

The Washington Monthly - The Magazine - How the Other Half Tests
"To be sure, open-access colleges need to assess the knowledge and abilities of incoming students. Dysfunctional public high schools routinely grant diplomas to students who lack basic math and reading skills. As a result, many new college students need help in order to grapple with college-level work. The problem is that colleges have chosen to deal with that challenge by diverting huge numbers of students into a parallel remedial education system with a dismal track record of helping students ultimately graduate from college. Compounding the problem, most colleges place students into the remediation track using nothing more than the results of a short, inexpensive, one-shot multiple-choice test of questionable accuracy and worth." 
Most Americans think of the SAT as the ultimate high-stakes college admissions test, but the Accuplacer has more real claim to the title. (As it happens, the same company, the Education Testing Service, produces both exams.) When students apply to selective colleges, they’re evaluated based on high school transcripts, extracurricular pursuits, teacher recommendations, and other factors alongside their SAT scores. In open admissions colleges, placement tests typically trump everything else. If you bomb the SAT, the worst thing that can happen is you can’t go to the college of your choice. If you bomb the Accuplacer, you effectively can’t go to college at all. 
The remedial placement process is ground zero for college non-completion in America. If the nation is going to make any headway in helping more students graduate from college, it will have to completely overhaul the way students enrolling in nonselective colleges are tested for college readiness, and make equally fundamental changes in how colleges use that information to help students earn degrees. 
An excellent article up at The Washington Monthly looks at how remediation has become a common experience for working-class kids. The Accuplacer test from ETS is a real moneymaker: it allows schools to require that students pay for remediation in addition to regular classes.

And since employers can now require a BA, which has no free and public path in the US, students and families go into to debt to fund college remediation programs that are needed because the publicly-funded schools failed, as defined by corporate tests proven to work at indicating a student's socio-economic class. That's a nice setup when you think about it.
There are promising examples of these ideas being put into practice. One can be found at Austin Peay University, a public four-year institution in Tennessee that admits 90 percent of the students who apply. For years, roughly half of all Austin Peay students were put in remediation, with typically dismal results. In 2007, the university took the bold step of eliminating remediation entirely. Instead of a placement test, underprepared students were given a diagnostic test and enrolled in college-level courses, with the requirement that they spend two hours in a learning laboratory each week, where they received individual tutoring and personalized computer-based instruction tailored to the results of the diagnostic test. 
The results were impressive. Before the switch, only 53 percent of students passed developmental math, and only 30 percent completed a for-credit math class within two years. After the elimination of remediation, the percentage of underprepared students completing college-level math more than doubled, to 67 percent. English results were also significant—the percentage of students passing college English increased from 54 percent to 76 percent. Austin Peay saved on the classroom space they had been devoting to remediation, and students ended up saving on tuition because they weren’t paying for remedial courses. Everybody won.

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