Co-requisite Remediation: When it’s likely to work

A recent post dealt with the “CCA” (Complete College America) obsession with ‘corequisite remediation’.  In case you are not familiar with what the method involves, here is my synopsis:

Co-requisite remediation involves the student enrolling in both a credit course and a course that provides remediation, concurrently.  The method could be called ‘simultaneous’ remediation, since students are dealing with both the credit course and the remedial course concurrently.

The co-requisite models are a reaction to the sequential remediation done in the traditional models.  For mathematics, some colleges have from two to five remedial courses in front of the typical college course (college algebra, pre-calculus, or similar level).  The logic of exponential attrition points out the flaws in a long sequence (see for a story on that).

The co-requisite models in use vary in the details, especially in terms of the degree of effort in remediation … some involve 1 credit (1 hour per week) in remedial work, others do more.  Some models involve adding this class time to the course by creating special sections that meet 5 or 6 hours per week instead of 4.

I do not have a basic disagreement with the idea of co-requisite remediation.  Our work in the New Life Project included these ideas from the start; we called it ‘just-in-time remediation’; this emphasis resulted in us not including any course before the Mathematical Literacy course.

The problem is the presumption that co-requisite remediation can serve all or almost all students.  For open-door institutions such as community colleges, we are entrusted with the goal of supporting upward mobility for people who might otherwise be blocked … including the portion needing remediation.  The issue is this:

For what levels of ‘remediation need’ is the co-requisite model appropriate?

No research exists on this question, nor am I aware of anybody working on it.  The CCA work, like “NCAT” (National Center for Academic Transformation) does not generally conduct research on their models.  NCAT actually did some, though the authors tended to be NCAT employees.  The CCA is taking anecdotal information about a new method and distributing it as ‘evidence’ that something works; I see that as a very dangerous tool, which we must resist.

However, there is no doubt that co-requisite remediation has the potential to be a very effective solution for some students in some situations.  Here is my attempt at defining the work space for the research question:  Which students benefit from co-requisite remediation?

Matching students to remediation model:

Matching students to remediation model



Here is the same information as text (in case you can’t read the image above):

Of prerequisite material ↓ Never learned it Misunderstands it Forgotten it
Small portion5% to 25% Co-requisite model Co-requisite model Co-requisite model
Medium portion30% to 60% Remedial course Remedial course Co-requisite model
Large portion65% to 100% Remedial course(s) Remedial Course(s) Remedial course

The 3 by 3 grid is the problem space; within each, I have placed my hypotheses about the best remediation model (with the goal of minimizing the number of remedial courses for each student).

As you probably know, advocates like CCA have been very effective … some states have adopted policies that force extensive use of co-requisite remediation “based on the data”.  Of course the data shows positive outcomes; that happens with almost all reasonably good ideas, just because there is a good chance of the right students being there, and because of the halo and placebo factors.

What we need is some direct research on whether co-requisite remediation works for each type of student (like the 9 types I describe above).  We need science to guide our work, not politics directing it.

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1 Comment

  • By schremmer, June 26, 2015 @ 11:12 pm

    1. There is obviously a “political” benefit to promoting the co-requisite model. At least for the time being. But there is something to it that we better take advantage of. Or else.

    2. Re. your question “For what levels of ‘remediation need’ is the co-requisite model appropriate?”

    One necessary condition is of course that the students can read. (I am absolutely not joking.)

    And it is clear that, no matter how much co-requisite remediation you are going to give me, I am not going to be able to take a graduate course in quantum mechanics even though I used to know quite a bit of mathematical methods in physics. The difficulty here is that I am not used to think in the requisite terms.

    Similarly, a student who has never encountered functions is going to have difficulties with their calculus no matter her/his preparation in algebra.

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