Improving the Accuracy of Remedial Education

According to a new report from the Community College Research Center, about half of all entering college students take at least one remedial course. Due to the growing concern nationwide regarding low rates of college readiness among high school graduates, this report takes a closer look at how readiness is determined on college campuses, particularly at community colleges, where nearly 50% of all students begin their college education.

Among the major findings:

  • The need for remediation is typically determined by the results of a placement exam. Analysis indicated that results from these exams caused under-placement (placing a student in remediation who is likely to earn at least a B in a college level course) to occur more often than over-placement (placing a student into a college-level course who is likely to fail). In one study of a large urban community college system, about 25% of students assigned to remedial math could have passed a college-level course with a B or better. About 33% of students assigned to remedial English could have passed a college-level course with a B or better.
    • By comparison, only 5% were considered “over-placed” in both math and English.
  • In attempting to find a more accurate method of placing students into the appropriate courses, researchers found that high school transcripts (specifically, GPA and the number of completed units in math and English) would result in fewer students being under and over placed.
    • However, this method would likely increase assignment to remediation for some minority students. For instance, Black students would be more likely assigned to English remediation than they would be with the placement exam method.
    • The report suggests that colleges consider using an either/or method. That is, determine a student’s readiness for a college-level course by either the results of the placement exam or the information gained from a high school transcript.
  • College leaders and policymakers may be rightly questioning the accuracy of remedial placement tests. However, the report concludes that colleges should monitor and evaluate how any changes in remedial placement affect all subgroups of students.