Do You Really Need Remediation?

Don't pay now to learn what you should have been taught in high school

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A new study shows that high school grade point average is a better predictor of who will complete college than SAT or ACT scores, or even a school’s own placement test results.

This has repeatedly been reported in the news.

Unfortunately, it’s often such standardized test scores that determines who is placed in remedial classes. And according to the Alaska study, high school GPA is, again, a better predictor of who needs remedial coursework—and better yet, who doesn’t.

“We definitely should be including GPAs when assessing college readiness,” Michelle Hodara, the lead author of the study and a senior researcher at Education Northwest, is quoted in a post at the Hechinger Report. “We found the same thing that community college researchers and practitioners are finding, that high school GPA is a really powerful measure of college readiness, even for students who want to earn a four-year degree.”

There does seem to be a need for an objective assessment, however. At some schools an ‘A’ represents rigorous coursework and exceptional effort; at others, it may simply represent grade inflation. Some students do well in high school only to end up needing remediation in college.

And a report released in April by the Education Trust revealed that most high school students graduate ready for neither college nor career.

Studies have also shown that remediation doesn’t really work if its purpose is to get students on a path to graduation. The percentage of community college students who begin school needing remediation and who go on to graduate is quite low: only 9.5%, according to a 2011 study by Complete College America.

What have studies shown to be effective? Since at least 2009, education researchers have known that having students whose scores indicate a need for remediation enrolled in regular, credit bearing classes (remedial or developmental courses do not earn credit and do not count toward a degree) and provided with extra support helps students most.

Interestingly, data from the Alaska study revealed that some students assigned to developmental courses managed to bypass them and take regular classes: 60% of them passed.

Hodara argues that test scores don’t capture other important skills necessary for college completion, but that GPAs do. “It’s likely that if you have a high GPA, even if you’re in an easy class, you showed up and turned in your homework and did things that are important for college readiness and success,” she says, according to the Hechinger Report.

If you have at least a 3.0 high school GPA and have been assigned a developmental class, ask if there are other options. Some schools are experimenting with providing extra support to students in regular classes. Or seek out that extra support yourself.