A wave of remediation reforms has swept across the country in the past few years, and now Texas has passed a law that features a popular approach to developmental education.
Last month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law the use of corequisite remediation as the required model for students in developmental education courses. Corequisite remediation places students in college-level, or gateway, English and math courses, but pairs those courses with additional supports.
“We took a look at the models around the country and saw a number of states where the corequisite models are working better than the other jumble of developmental educational models,” said Raymund Paredes, commissioner of higher education for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “We know Tennessee is doing well with the model. Colorado is doing well. We looked at the data and said we need to try something different.”
More than half of students in the state’s community colleges -- approximately 54 percent -- take developmental education courses.
The new law gives all of the state's public colleges and universities that have developmental education programs until 2018 to have 25 percent of their developmental students enrolled in a corequisite course. The mandate increases to 50 percent by 2019 and by 2020 to 75 percent.
Paredes said the gradual scaling up will give those colleges that prefer other remedial reforms an opportunity to try their approaches, gather data and demonstrate to lawmakers that other models are just as or more effective. But if they can’t, the Legislature could decree that 100 percent of remediation be corequisite, he said.
Early research in Tennessee, which was one of the first states to scale up corequisite remediation in math, writing and reading for its community colleges, showed significant increases in students passing college-level courses.
Nearly 20 other states are moving to do the same, but without a legislative mandate, said Bruce Vandal, senior vice president for strategy, math pathways and corequisite remediation at Complete College America, which has been a major advocate for the reform.
“I don't know a particular state with a bill ready to drop, but after you see it in Texas, it’s fair to say other legislators will take notice,” he said.
Some critics have voiced concerns about corequisite remediation. They question whether or not it helps students who score the lowest on academic readiness exams and say the reform only works with additional financial resources. But the approach has caught on as passage rates have increased.
“Students scoring a 13 or below on the ACT are still passing college-level courses at much higher rates with the corequisite model than they were in the older model,” Vandal said.
Under the previous approach to remediation, for Tennessee students who scored no more than a 13 on the ACT in math, less than 3 percent completed a gateway math course, a CCA report found. But in two years of using corequisite remediation, 58.3 percent of students passed the gateway math course despite scoring a 13 or lower on the math ACT.
But some in Texas remain concerned about the new state law.
Austin Community College, for instance, is launching a pilot corequisite math course in college algebra this fall that will enroll 200 students, said Carolynn Reed, the math department chair for the college.
“It’s a pretty radical change,” Reed said. “It’s a total change in curriculum. You can’t just put the two courses together. There are different [corequisite] models, and we’re learning what is allowed and not allowed under the law.”
The Austin pilot will use two instructors who will co-teach each corequisite course. But it can be a challenge to figure out which of the current adjunct professors meet the qualifications to teach the courses, she said.
“We have adjuncts that are only qualified to teach developmental math and adjuncts only qualified for college-level courses and some who have qualifications for both,” Reed said, adding that it’s easier for those who are qualified to teach college-level courses to get the qualifications to teach the developmental classes, but it’s more difficult for those adjuncts with just the developmental qualifications to do the reverse, which requires a master’s degree.
“A lot of this is still very unknown, and we’ll probably know more once we try something in the fall, but it’s a mix of excitement in trying something new … and a mix of concern about the unknown and how this will affect adjuncts and our students,” she said.
The Austin pilot courses will meet five days a week for a total of seven hours, and that level of instruction may not work for every student.
“It’s very intense,” Reed said. “We’re concerned for the students at our community college who are part-time -- they have to work and have commitments outside of school, so they may not be able to commit to coming to school five days a week.”
Paredes said one of the good things about the bill is that there are different types of corequisite approaches the colleges can offer.
“We’re not suggesting we all do corequisite education in Texas the same way,” he said. “Some will do it by offering more tutoring, others will have more paired courses, some will have supplemental instruction. There are a lot of approaches, and one of the things we’ll do with the coordinating board is monitor all the strategies and identify the approaches that work best.”