Across the country, placement tests are often used to determine which students must take remedial math and English classes. In many cases, students who performed well in high school are shocked to find that they are unprepared for college and must take remedial classes before taking college-level classes. A national study by Complete College America showed that students placed in remedial classes are less likely to complete college-level math and English classes and are less likely to graduate.
NSHE Remedial Placement Rates are High, Even for High-Performing Students
On July 15, 2014, Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Chancellor Daniel J. Klaich and Vice Chancellor Crystal Abba presented a report to the Legislative Committee on Education showing that 55.6 percent of students entering NSHE institutions were placed in remedial classes in 2013-14. Placement rates ranged from 33.5 percent at University of Nevada, Reno to 80.9 percent at Nevada State College. During the hearing, state legislators were surprised to find that 46.2 percent of students receiving the Millennium Scholarship were placed in remedial classes in 2013-14. Millennium Scholars are considered some of Nevada’s brightest students. To be eligible for the Millennium Scholarship program, students must take four years of math and English and have a high school grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.25.
The report also showed that racial and ethnic minorities had higher remedial placement rates than other students. African American students had the highest placement rate at 66.1 percent, followed by Latinos at 64.8 percent. White and Asian students had the lowest placement rates at 48.7 percent and 45.6 percent respectively.
Students Completing College Level Math in First Two Years are Significantly More Likely to Graduate
NSHE’s report found that students who take college-level math in the first two years of college are significantly more likely to graduate within 3 years at two-year colleges, or within 6 years at four-year colleges. For example, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the graduation rate was 48.8 percent for students who completed college-level math in the first two years compared to 22.6 percent for students who did not. At the College of Southern Nevada, the graduation rate was 23.2 percent for students who completed college-level math in the first two years compared to only 3.9 percent for students who did not.
Research Shows There Are Better Ways to Place Students
During his testimony (01:10), Chancellor Klaich referred to a recent event (“Building the Infrastructure of Opportunity for Latinos”) held by the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities which highlighted research showing that high school grades are a better predictor of success in college-level math and English classes than traditional placement tests. At the event, Dr. John Hetts discussed how Long Beach City College used evidence-based analysis to determine that standardized placement tests are paradoxically poor predictors of college performance and that high school grades are much better predictors of success. This research led Long Beach City College to create Promise Pathways, a program that uses high school grades to place students in math and English classes.
This initiative has shown positive results, particularly for Latino students. Prior to the launch of the program, only 4 percent of Latino students completed college-level math and 11 percent of Latino students completed college-level English. After Promise Pathways was implemented as a pilot program, these completion rates jumped to 13 percent in math and 40 percent in English for participating Latino students. These results are particularly striking because completion rates for Latinos who participated in the program exceeded the baseline completion rates for white students.
Each NSHE institution should conduct a rigorous analysis of which factors drive student success in college-level math and English to improve its remediation placement policies. Vice Chancellor Abba indicated that NSHE institutions are taking a serious look at national research and are beginning to incorporate high school grades into placement decisions. Doing so could help ensure that high achieving students such as Millennium Scholars are appropriately placed in college-level classes and improve their odds of graduating.
Recent Guinn Center Research Provides Further Recommendations to Improve College Outcomes
NSHE institutions should also explore other policy solutions to improve student success. The Guinn Center’s recent report, The State of Latinos in the Intermountain West, makes several key recommendations to improve college retention, graduation, and remediation programs. While these recommendations focus on Latino students, implementing these recommendations could improve outcomes for all students.
- Expand counseling and advising staff and increase the number of bilingual counselors at institutions of higher education, particularly community colleges.
- Create incentives to enable students to attend college full-time, at least for the first year: On average, part-time students are less likely to graduate than full-time students. Policymakers should explore ways to eliminate barriers that prevent students from attending full-time.
- Provide wrap-around services to support student success: Policymakers should explore ways to address the barriers that contribute to low completion and graduation rates. Among these are a lack of transportation, the cost of textbooks, and the lack of affordable childcare and housing.
- Explore new ways of offering remedial courses such as breaking courses up into shorter modules or requiring students to take intervention classes concurrently with college-level classes
- Introduce culturally relevant literature in remedial and gateway English and writing classes.
- Increase professional development funds for adjunct lecturers: Most remedial courses are taught by adjunct (part-time) lecturers who do not qualify for professional development funds. Policymakers should explore ways to set aside dedicated funds for adjuncts for the purpose of teacher training or should offer rigorous training on site.