Thursday, August 28, 2014

Remediating remediation (Part V): D-d-d-data

Remediation needs to be fixed. Yes, we know that. Remediation is necessary; we know that, too. And we know that remediation is best when it's relevant.

But what do we really know about the students who are taking remedial courses? How can we really measure if and how remedial programs are successful? That is, if they are helping students gain the knowledge, skills, and practice they need and enabling those students to continue in college. This no guarantee of graduation or a job, mind you, but remediation should be a confidence-building step up in full-time college student status.

An Education Commission of the States report indicates that most states do not collect data on the entire picture of remediation: participation, success, and cost. The report, A Cure For Remedial Reporting Chaos, does focus mostly on the data, but that data is important because organizations can't make reasonable decisions, especially about change, without good data.

A subsequent report published in June 2014, A Common Framework for Remedial Reporting: Response to Remedial Reporting Task Force Recommendations, outlines a framework for gathering data.

Recognizing that it's not just high school graduates who often have to enroll in remedial courses, the framework suggests the data include:
  • How many first-time college students enroll in remedial courses
  • How many students complete their remedial courses
  • How many students in remediation complete their other courses
  • How many students who start in remediation persist year to year
  • How many students who start in remediation graduate from college
  • How long does it take students who start in remediation to graduate from college
Tracking their grades and GPAs is useful data, but not always good data, in my opinion. Some professors are harder than others; some professors reward effort as well as performance. We know, however, that grades and GPAs are indicators of likelihood of retention and graduation and often inform how hireable that graduate might be.

In addition to the quantitative data, I think the qualitative data may also be useful. Having professors (or adjuncts, more likely) who are teaching those remedial courses meet periodically to talk about what is working in their classes; where most students seem to be struggling; if there are any differences in content or skills trends (e.g, fewer students confused about area and perimeter this year or more students struggling with text-influenced spelling); if students from particular schools, districts, or states are doing better or worse than prior years; etc. That professional learning network (PLN) of remediation instructors could help make sense of the quantitative data, but they could also make use of that quantitative data.

There MUST be conversations between those who are instructing and facilitating the remedial courses and those who are teaching the next level of courses. Just because the remediation faculty think something is a great idea because it is "relevant" or "innovative" doesn't mean it's going to help students pass the freshman English or math courses, or do well in their other courses. That kind of feedback loop is imperative.

In a perfect world, the remediation faculty would also get to talk with some high school teachers, especially from those schools from which some (even many) of the incoming freshman class graduated. Not to speak (necessarily) of specific students, but to talk about the general challenges for the majority of students, especially those likely to have to take remedial courses.

And if the freshman English and math faculty can share where the academic challenges remain for
the remedial students once they move into those full credit-bearing courses, remediation faculty can continue to tinker with their courses. The more information they have about incoming students and the more they know about what's working as students work through their remedial courses and move on to a full credit-bearing course load, the more likely remediation faculty are to provide the skills, knowledge, and practice students require. Those remedial courses and those educators are, after all, the bridge for that gap between high school and college.

There should be no shame in having to take remedial courses. Most of us have been remediated in one thing or another in our lives; we probably didn't call it "remediation" or "developmental."

The better and yes, more relevant, we can make those remedial experiences for students, the better prepared they will be for more than just college.

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