Alignment of Remediation with Student Programs

My college is one of the institutions in the AACC Pathways Project; we’ve got a meeting coming up, for which we were directed to read some documents … including the famous (or infamous) “Core Principles” for remediation.  [See http://www.core-principles.org/uploads/2/6/4/5/26458024/core_principles_nov4.pdf]  In that list of Core Principles, this is #4:

Students for whom the default college-level course placement is not appropriate, even with additional mandatory support, are enrolled in rigorous, streamlined remediation options that align with the knowledge and skills required for success in gateway courses in their academic or career area of interest.

What does that word “align” mean?  It seems to be a key focus of this principle … and the principle also implies that colleges are failing if they can not implement co-requisite remediation.  In early posts, I have shared data which suggests that stand-alone remediation can be effective; the issue is length-of-sequence, meaning that we can not justify a sequence of 3 or 4 developmental courses (up to and including intermediate algebra).

The general meaning of “align” simply means to put items in their proper position.  The ‘align’ in the Core Principles must mean something more than that … ‘proper position’ does not add any meaning to the statement.  [It already said ‘streamlined’ and later says ‘required or’.]  What do they really mean by ‘align’?

In the supporting narrative, the document actually talks more about co-requisite remediation than alignment.  That does not help us understand what was intended.

The policy makers and leaders I’ve heard on this issue often use this type of statement about aligning remediation:

The remediation covers skills and applications like those the student will encounter in their required math course.

In other words, what ‘align’ means is “restricted” … restricted to those mathematical concepts or procedures that the student will directly use in the required math course.  The result is that the remedial math course will consist of the same stuff included in the mandatory support course in the co-requisite model.  The authors, then, are saying that we need to do co-requisite remediation … or co-requisite remediation; the only option is concurrent versus preceding.

If the only quantitative needs a student faced were restricted to the required math course, this might be reasonable.

I again find a basic flaw in this use of co-requisite remediation in two flavors (concurrent, sequential).  We fail to serve our fundamental charge to prepare students for success in their PROGRAM … not just one math course.  As long as the student’s program requires any quantitative work in courses such as these, the ‘aligned’ remediation will fail to serve student needs:

  • Chemistry
  • Physiology
  • Economics
  • Political science
  • Psychology
  • Basic Physics

Dozens of non-math courses on each campus have strong quantitative components.  Should we avoid remedial math courses just to get students through one required math course … and cause them to face unnecessary challenges in several other courses in their program?

In some rare cases, the required math course actually covers most of the quantitative knowledge a student needs for their program.  However, in my experience, the required math course only partially provides that background … or has absolutely no connection to those needs.

Whom does remediation serve?  Policy makers … or students?

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