TBR and the Co-Requisite Fraud

Since many policy makers and academic leaders are telling us that we need to do (or consider) co-requisite remediation because of the results from the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), the TBR should release valid results … results which are consistent with direct observations by people within their system.  #TBR #Co-Requisite

Earlier this year, one of the TBR colleges shared their internal data for the past academic year, during a visit to my college.  This particular institution is not unusual in their academic setting, which is quite diverse.  Here is a summary of their data.

Foundations (intermediate algebra)          College: 61%

Math for Liberal Arts                                College: 52%

Statistics (Intro)                                      College: 40%

The TBR lists 51.7% as the completion rate for the same time period.  [See https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/files/TBR%20CoRequisite%20Study%20-%20Update%20Spring%202016%20(1).pdf]

Recently, I was able to have a short conversation with a mathematics faculty member within the TBR system.  The college administrator who visited earlier this year said that their mathematics faculty “would never go back” now that they have tried co-requisite remediation, suggesting that most faculty are now supporters.  The faculty member I talked with had some very strong language about the validity of the TBR data; the phrase “cooked the books” was used.  This internal voice certainly does not sound like a strong supporter, and suggests that there is deliberate tampering with the data.

There are two direct indicators of fraud in the TBR data.

  1. Intermediate Algebra (Foundations) was used in the data, even though it does not meet any degree requirement in the system.  [It is “college level”, but does not count for an AA or AS degree.]  Foundations had the highest pass rate for the college visiting; however, TBR does not release course-by-course results.]
  2. “Passing” is a 1.0 or higher, even though the norm for general education is a 2.0 or higher.  Again, the TBR does not release actual grade distribution.  The rate of D/1.0-1.5 grades can vary but is often 10% or higher.

The data is presented as passing (implied 2.0) a college math course (implied not developmental); the TBR violates both of these conditions.  If the data was financial instead of academic, the condition is called fraud … as in a corporation which manages to report a large profit instead of the reality of a very small profit.

Perhaps the TBR did not intentionally commit this fraud.  However, given that the leaders involved are experienced academics, that does not seem likely.  The errors I am seeing are too fundamental.

Of course, it is possible that both views from internal sources are incorrect.  I do not think that is as likely as the TBR data being incorrect.

My estimate of the ACTUAL completion rate of college math courses (liberal arts math and statistics) with a 2.0/C or higher:

30% to 40%  completion of college mathematics in corequisite remediation … NOT 50% to 60% as claimed by the TBR.

Whether I am correct in claiming fraudulent data reporting from the TBR, I am sure that the TBR needs to provide much better transparency in its reporting. Developmental education is being attacked and fundamentally altered by policy makers and external influencers whose most common rationale consists of the statement “Co-requisite remediation has to be a good thing … that has been proven by the Tennessee data!”.

Some readers may suggest that my wording of this post is overly-dramatic and not in keeping with the norms of academic discourse.  I think the dramatic tone is quite warranted considering the manner in which the TBR data has been used by Complete College America and others.  I agree that this post is not within the norms of academic discourse, but I believe that the tone is totally within the norms of the new reality of higher education:

Instead of discourse, over time, building upon prior results, we have allowed external influencers to determine the agenda for higher education.

If policy makers and leaders seek to push us in the direction they prefer and then use selected data to support this direction, then those policy makers and leaders can expect us to call them out for fraud and other inappropriate behavior.

It is time for the Tennessee Board of Regents to report their data in a way that allows the rest of us to examine the questions of ‘what is working’ in ‘which course’ under ‘what conditions’.

Enough of the fraud; it’s time to show us the truth about what, which, and conditions.

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  • By Vernon Kays, November 28, 2016 @ 1:36 pm

    Thanks for the information. I have recently retired and our college was looking at this option for their classes.

  • By Jack Rotman, November 28, 2016 @ 5:46 pm

    So … good luck with that retirement thing; I’ve got a finite number of years before I make that transition.

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