Thursday, September 26, 2013

Community College League of California - Remediation

For the last several years as we've had discussions on improving student completion in our colleges, the perennial problem has been the quantity of students that are placing into pre-collegiate coursework based on their assessment test results.

In many cases, the assessment results accurately reflect true deficiencies. However, every local practitioner I have talked to also recognizes that some--perhaps many--students are wrongly placed into a sequence of courses based on simply not being prepared to take the test. Most of the recipients of this e-mail have a college degree, and a majority have a graduate degree. And, we've all taken "placement tests" (SAT, LSAT, GRE, GMAT) tests that we have prepared for in advance, and frequently paid significant money to be retaught what we were already supposed to know.

You've probably heard me rant about how I had to spend thousands of dollars for a "bar review" course to remind me what I had shelled out the now-cheap $50,000 for three years of law school.

Sure, our college assessment centers usually provide sample questions, and AccuPlacer has "apps" that you can buy for your smartphone. However, only the most connected students ever learn about these resources in advance of assessment and the resources are mostly diagnostic, rather than subject refreshers.

Ideally, we would provide a two-week refresher course to all of our 400,000 incoming students each year, with one-on-one tutoring, but we can't simply wait for the funding needed to do that. It also may not be the best approach with so many students of different personal, educational and economic backgrounds. Some colleges are doing great summer bridge programs for students who have just graduated high school, which work wonderfully in preparing these cohorts to start college.

This morning at the New York Times confab, Sal Khan of the Khan Academy demonstrated new resources that the nonprofit he founded has created, and I thought immediately that the model (and perhaps this specific solution) could solve our problem. If you think of Khan as a series of YouTube videos, that's so 2006.

Specifically, for math, new users take an 8-question pre-test that covers the areas included in most of our college assessments. It then uses the results to advise the "student" skill-building components to tackle. It provides a highly customized learning experience focusing on exactly what a student needs to know.

And, I just took the math "pretest" on, and I'm not telling you how many areas I need to brush up on!

The site uses a gamification approach, and actually makes you want to complete the next task. And, all of the content is also available in Spanish, and additional languages are being added.

I don't want to evangelize Khan Academy as the only solution, recognize that we need to turn to our faculty and student service professionals, but to me this is just too exciting to not talk about. Whether we direct students to use Khan's resources or we steal the idea and build our own (although we're years and millions of dollars behind), this could very well be the solution.

We may have an opportunity to revolutionize assessment by encouraging universal pre-assessment review, do a far better job of placing students, and significantly reduce the time it takes for students to reach their educational goals.

And, for those that we're unfortunately wrongly placing too low and lose in the basic skills sequence--either because they give up or life gets in the way--we can literally change their lives.

So, let's have a conversation about this. As we approach a statewide assessment system, we have a unique opportunity to think creatively and do something different for the benefit of our students and the communities they come from. I'll synthesize some of the responses and follow-up next week.

Thank you,

Scott Lay
President and Chief Executive Officer
Orange Coast College '94

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