Approximately 40% of college freshmen must take remedial courses for which they do not receive credit. Too often they do little better in these English and math courses than they did in high school. Of those who attend community colleges, just 15% graduate from a four-year-old college within six years.
The University of Virginia Community College System, including Northern Virginia Community College, seems to have found a solution with their “modular placement test system.”
The experiment began in 2012 with a new exam, the Virginia Placement Test for Math, which identifies the skills needed for students to enroll in the introductory for-credit math course. Instead of retaking the high school basic math course, students take a remedial course — labeled “developmental”— that focuses on what they do not know. Instead of a semester course, the remedial requirement is one-credit hour, four-week course.
In 2013, the Virginia Placement Test for English was launched with the purpose of identifying a student’s weaknesses. Missing in the previous multiple choice English placement test was an essay component to evaluate a student’s writing ability.
A two-hour credit course was developed for students whose scores showed that, although they were not college ready, they were close. Those students took the developmental course in tandem with the for-credit introductory College Composition course.
A study by the Community College Research Center Teachers College, Columbia University, found that at least in the initial phases of the Virginia experiment there was an increase in the number of students who enrolled in for-credit courses.
Of those students enrolling in a Virginia community college for the first time, the percentage of those placed in math development courses went from 81% in 2010 down to 57% in 2012 after the new test and placement policies became effective.
In English the number of students in remedial courses fell from 58% in 2010 to 42% in 2013 after the redesign was implemented.
Research by three Teachers College at Columbia University scholars identified Virginia as one of the leaders for refining requirements for credit-level math courses and providing the developmental courses to support them.