Wednesday, November 9, 2016

College remediation rate...a moving target


Like most school leaders I am concerned with the remediation rates reported by the different entities within our state. Remediation refers to the percentage of college freshman students that take remedial courses due to low ACT scores. This article isn't about directing blame, it is more about the inconsistency in reporting this data. Higher education naturally could blame K-12 for lack of preparation which led to remediation and K-12 could blame higher education for not providing a better atmosphere for individual students to succeed. Who's problem is remediation anyway? I personally think it is a shared problem and one that needs a shared solution. 

Recently, I began to research this topic. I started by contacting our community colleges, regional colleges, and our two research institutions within our state. I also reached out to approximately 15 other states and requested their remediation rates for incoming freshman. Finally, I reached out to the North Dakota University System.

This is what I learned…

Remediation may not impact on-time degree completion like previously thought.

When we compare a student that needs remediation versus those who do not, it appears it may take longer for degree completion for those that take remedial courses. Remediation may lead to higher student loan amounts for a student and a higher likelihood of not completing their degree program. As I researched this topic I found that this may not be true. This study focused on North Dakota community colleges and whether remediation courses increased the length of their degree completion. The data was generated from the North Dakota Statewide Longitudinal Data System. Based on the findings it does not appear that the act of taking a remedial Mathematics and/or English course at an NDUS Community College negatively affects a student’s likelihood of completing an Associate Degree on-time. The study found that delayed degree completion had more to do with the academic differences of the student than the required remedial classes. To say remediation automatically increases the time to complete a degree may not be entirely correct.

North Dakota does pretty well when compared to states within our region. 

As mentioned previously, I contacted 15 different states and asked for their overall percentage of students that needed some level of remediation. I received information from five different states so far. I think the Iowa Department of Education said it best, "Unfortunately, there is no uniform approach to remedial education and no standardized remedial data." As you review the remediation rates below, please know that each state calculates remediation differently and I would make the argument that each college in their state may determine remediation differently. Adding to the confusion, agencies within the state may determine remediation differently. For example, in North Dakota, the North Dakota University System has a different percentage than the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. So, long story short, I am not sure about the accuracy of the data found below.

Minnesota Remediation Rate: 26%
(Based on 2013 data)
Montana Remediation Rate: 26%
(Based on 2015 fall data)
South Dakota Remediation Rate: 26%
(Based on 2014 data)
North Dakota Remediation Rate: NDUS: 25.31% and ND DPI: >40%
(NDUS based on 2016 fall data, unsure of ND DPI data)
Iowa Remediation Rates: 23.2%
(Based on 2012-2014 cohorts)

Inconsistent reporting may be occurring throughout our state. 

After contacting colleges and universities throughout the state of North Dakota it appears that there may be some inconsistencies when determining who qualifies for remediation and who does not. The two regional colleges I contacted have consistent cut scores for remediation. They follow recommended cut scores established by NDUS to determine remediation. Students who are unable to score an 18 on the English sub test and a 21 on the math sub test of the ACT can take the Compass test to avoid remediation. The cut scores for the Compass test at the regional colleges are a 49 in math and a 77 in writing. If the student is unable to get the required ACT and Compass score they are placed in remedial courses. The courses vary depending on the level of the ACT score. One of the research institutions in our state follows the similar ACT cut scores, but varied on the Compass cut score and used a different test for English. The cut score to avoid remediation was a 41 on the English Compass test and a 50 on the math Compass test. Therefore this research institution is using a different test for English and a higher cut score for math to determine remediation. If these conflicting data points get thrown into the same pot to determine North Dakota’s remediation rate, how will we compare apples to apples?

More questions.

If we are going to quantify our remediation rates across the state shouldn’t they be standardized for each institution?

Currently, ND DPI reports over 40% and NDUS reports 25.31% for overall remediation in North Dakota. If we report our remediation rates shouldn’t ND DPI and NDUS report the same data?

Compass will be phased out for Accuplacer within the next few months, but not all colleges may use Accuplacer according to school representatives. This may create further differences.


Here is our own data from the 2008-2013 cohort. It is broken down by the type of school.

Community College: 21.2%
Regional College: 24.3%
Research Institution: 4.2%

Check out this article from the Washington Post:

How college remediation rates are distorted - and why.