Why Does Co-Requisite Remediation “Work”?

Our academic leaders and policy makers continue to get strongly worded messages about the great results using co-requisite remediation.  Led by Complete College America (CCA), the originators of such messages suggest that this method avoids the failures of developmental mathematics.   [For example, see http://completecollege.org/spanningthedivide/#remediation-as-a-corequisite-not-a-prerequisite] Those of us in the field need to understand why intelligent people with the best of intentions continue to suggest this uni-directional ‘fix’ for a complex problem.  #CCA #CorequisiteRemediation

I want to focus on the educational component of the situation — not the political or fiscal.  In particular, I want to explore why the co-requisite remediation results have been so encouraging to these influencers.

One of the steps in my process was a nice conversation with Myra Snell.  I’ve known Myra for a while now, and she was involved with the New Life Project as well as the Carnegie Foundation’s Statway work.   What I got from this conversation is that Myra believes that there is a structural cause for the increased ‘throughput’ in the co-requisite models.  “Throughput” refers to the rate at which students complete their college math requirement.  Considerable data exists on the throughput using a traditional developmental math model (pre-algebra, beginning algebra, then intermediate algebra); these rates usually are from 7% to 15% for the larger studies.  In each of the co-requisite systems, the throughput is usually about 60%.  Since the curriculum varies across these implementations, Myra’s conclusion is that the cause is structural … the structures of co-requisite remediation.

The conclusion is logical, although it is difficult to determine if it is reasonable.  Scientific research in education is very rare, and the data used for the remediation results is very simplistic.  However, there can be no question that the target of increased throughput is an appropriate and good target.  In order for me to conclude that the structure is the cause for the increased results, I need to see patterns in the data suggesting that ‘how well’ a method is done relates to the level of results … well done methods should connect to the best results, less well done methods connect with lower results.  A condition of “all results are equal” does not seem reasonable to me.

Given that different approaches to co-requisite remediation, done to varying degrees of quality, produce similar results indicates some different conclusions to me.

  • Introductory statistics might have a very small set of prerequisite skills, perhaps so small a set as to result in ‘no remediation’ being almost equal to co-requisite remediation.
  • Some liberal arts math courses might have properties similar to intro statistics with respect to prerequisite skills.
  • Some co-requisite remediation models involve increased time-on-task in class for the content of the college course; that increased class time might be the salient variable.
  • The prerequisites for college math are likely to have been inappropriate, especially for statistics and liberal arts math/quantitative reasoning.
  • Assessments used for placement are more likely to give false ‘remediation’ signals than they are false ‘college level’ signals.

Three of these points relate to prerequisite issues for the college math courses used in co-requisite remediation.  Briefly stated, I think the co-requisite results are strong indictments of how we have set prerequisites … far too often, a higher-than-necessary prerequisite has been used for inappropriate purposes (such as course transfer or state policy).  In the New Life model, we list one course prior to statistics or quantitative reasoning.  I think it is reasonable to achieve similar results with the MLCS model; if 60% of incoming students place directly in the college course … and 40% into MLCS, the predicted throughput is between 55% and 60%.  [This assumes a 70% pass rate in both courses, which is reasonable in my view.]  That throughput with a prerequisite course compares favorably to the co-requisite results.

The other point in my list (time-on-task) is a structural issue that would make sense:  If we add class time where help is available for the college math course, more students would be able to complete the course.  The states using co-requisite remediation have provided funds to support this extra class time; will they be willing to continue this investment in the long term?  That issue is not a matter of science, but of politics (both state and institution); my view of the history of our work is that extra class time is usually an unstable condition.

Overall, I think the ‘success’ seen with corequisite remediation is due to the very small sets of prerequisite skills present for the courses involved along with the benefits of additional time-on-task.   I  do not think we will see quite the same levels of results for the methods over time; a slide into the 50% to 55% throughput rate seems likely, as the systems become the new normal.

It is my view that we can achieve a stable system with comparable results (throughput) by using Math Literacy as the prerequisite course … without having to fail 40% of the students as is seen in the corequisite systems.

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