Bridget Terry Long
Still getting ready for school: Supporting students as they prepare for college
Students who took remedial courses tended to accumulate more college credits over time than students whose placement exam scores were just high enough to qualify for college-level classes. However, the students in remediation were no more likely to graduate than their peers who placed out of it. Moreover, in other work, Long has found suggestive evidence of a stigma effect from being placed in remediation.
Comment from Mandy Savitz-Romer: Yes, it's important to remember that students' social experiences in remediation impact their sense of self and their own postsecondary expectations. In a study of Boston Public School graduates in college, my colleagues and I also found that students felt discouraged in remedial courses. Surrounded with less academically engaged students, they often did not feel like they were part of an academic community.
While some students appear to benefit from remediation, other methods should also be considered to help under-prepared students succeed. One proactive approach lets students know where they stand on placement exams while they are still in high school, giving them time to do additional preparation. In this brief audio clip, Long discusses this Early Placement Testing approach, which has been tried in Ohio and other states.
Early assessment programs can help students improve their preparation for college before they actually enroll. With the support of their families and guidance counselors, high school students can take additional classes, or perhaps participate in targeted tutoring, to fill the gaps in their understanding of high school-level material.
Comment from Mandy Savitz-Romer: Early assessment programs have a lot of appeal these days, especially as a way to reduce the need for remediation. In addition to providing students feedback about their own ability, early assessment programs provide teachers with diagnostic information that can be used in their instructional efforts. Such strategies have enormous benefit when implemented well and shared with others in a student's support network, including counselors, family members and mentors. In an era where some students equate college readiness with statewide assessment results, these tests convey a different perspective on college readiness.
However, effective use of early assessment tools rests on high school and community programs to provide adequate academic and social support for students to build the skills necessary to score better once they arrive on a college campus. Without such support, giving these students the feedback that they are behind may only further discourage them from aspiring to attend college.
Besides the academic demands of college, many students must also navigate the system of applying for financial aid. Confusion about the aid application process deters many academically and financially qualified students from applying for it. In this audio clip, Long describes a partnership between H&R Block and the U.S. Department of Education that allows families to fill out financial aid forms at the same time they file their taxes.
This program simplifies the process of filling out financial aid forms and gives families with high school sophomores or juniors an estimate of how much they can expect to receive in financial aid years later. This information—knowing in advance that government support will be available—may encourage students to prepare academically for college.
Comment from Mandy Savitz-Romer: I think this is a promising strategy. Many high school students from low-income families foreclose on the idea of going to college because of misperceptions of cost. Educating students and their families early in their educational careers about the affordability of college has enormous potential to alter their educational behaviors and outcomes.
There are so many reasons that students choose not to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), such as misperceptions regarding the financial aid process, reluctance to share tax information, aversion to borrowing, confusion about the questions, and a general lack of transparency about the process. A strength of this partnership is that it goes beyond simplifying forms; it also provides concrete information about the actual costs of local schools. And it provides another opportunity to engage families in the process of preparing for college, which research has found can have a major impact on students' decision to enroll.
What other policies and programs can colleges and high schools implement to support students as they transition into college? Many possibilities exist. For example, Long has looked at the effect of smaller class sizes in college. The idea is that in smaller classes, teachers and students can have more direct interaction, which might support the learning of all students.
Ensuring that students graduate high school properly equipped for college is a big job and an increasingly demanding one. Education leaders at both the high school and college levels will need to work together to tackle the challenge of college preparedness.
1 Approximately 55-60% of students in remediation take these courses at community colleges. The bulk of remedial courses are provided at non-selective public colleges and universities, the point of entry for 80% of four-year students and 99% of two-year students. The term “remedial” is used here, though these courses are also referred to as “developmental” at many schools.
Published: February 2009
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