College Remedial Courses And The State Test

Filed in Delaware by on April 16, 2015

Even though I know there are unique and deserving circumstances, I can’t help but wonder how kids needing remedial courses are even accepted into college, especially University of Delaware which touts itself as highly selective. Okay, I don’t really wonder. Remedial courses are a cash cow for colleges so I understand why they offer them.  Having parents/students pay for non-credit courses makes achieving a degree take longer than four years which adds another semester, or two, in tuition and room and board fees… Cha-Ching!

And when you consider that over 50% of Delaware students had to take a remedial course before entering a Delaware college in 2012 we can all agree there’s a problem. Here is the latest solution:

High school juniors who do well on the state’s tough new standardized test will not have to take remedial classes if they attend a Delaware college or four-year university, state leaders announced Tuesday.

Gov. Jack Markell said the arrangement, which applies to the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Wilmington University and Delaware Technical Community College, will hopefully allow more students to avoid paying for classes that don’t count toward their degree.

“Addressing the remedial crisis is one crucial step we have to take,” Markell said. “Using these tests will help remove a barrier to make sure that more graduates go on to acquire that critical education they need to be successful.”

This strikes me as putting the cart before the horse. We are in the process of giving the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) for the very first time. We have no idea (yet alone a baseline for) what the test results will show (Altho, we’ve been warned that most kids won’t pass. And if that’s true that then this promises to be really ugly.).

Add to that reports of “intermittent network issues” during actual testing this week from certain schools and I question whether using these tests as “reward” is fair to those students whose testing, and mindset, was thrown off course. Should a child who experienced “intermittent network issues”, which had to result in their test being interrupted, be held to the same standard as a child who suffered no interruptions? After all, this slapped together plan by our Governor, DDOE and our state colleges and universities has raised the stakes on this test.  If this test is going to result in tangible benefits for those who pass it, then students who experienced “intermittent network issues” should be able to retake the test under the same circumstances as those students who didn’t experience technical difficulties. Also, why is a test with “intermittent network issues” being given before the bugs are worked out – not only given, but given with consequences for not passing?

Moving on, anyone else notice who is missing from the formation of this plan?

Let’s look to Steve Newton’s second comment (the News Journal deleted his first comment. WTH?) about this situation:

“Here’s the gist of my comment that the News Journal deleted yesterday: this decision reached with no input or participation by public education, teachers, parents, or legislators. This decision was almost immediately opposed by the DE PTA. The press conference itself was announced to legislators only one hour in advance, and I am told by several that the announcement did not include the location of the press conference. Matthew Allbright: please tell us that you’re not okay with the WNJ decision to censor legitimate comments about your stories.”

So much for transparency when it comes to the News Journal and those involved with this 11th hour decision – which, imo, has little to do with remedial courses (which, I bet, will still exist in practically the same numbers, along with the Accuplacer test – which will now be stressed as a simple placement/filler test while Delaware colleges/universities break down remedial classes into more specific courses. “Oh, you passed the SBA, but you have deficiency in basket weaving. No problem, we just added a special basket weaving remedial class!”) and everything to do with the Opt Out movement.

Yep, this plan is just another way to scare parents from opting out of standardized testing. It preys on the fear of parents not doing everything possible for their child’s educational future. Take the test or ruin your child’s future!

Now, I’m going to write something that I do not mean to be taken in a negative way. Hopefully, this will come out correctly. Ready? Here goes… the idea that the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Delaware Technical Community College and Wilmington University will have the same standards is not believable. I’m actually surprised that the University of Delaware agreed to this. (Okay, I’m hating how elitist this is sounding) But… come on. All colleges and universities are tiered. Right or wrong, they are tiered. They don’t cater to the same student – and that’s a good thing because it opens pathways to all students. But the idea that UD will accept the SBA without double checking those results by administering the Accuplacer test (or whatever new name they’ll decide to call it) doesn’t ring true. It also doesn’t strike me as responsible. What it does strike me as is a way to still get money out of parents whose children fail the credit based course fall semester of Freshman year and end up in the remedial course in the spring semester.

Here’s the big questions: How can we tie a test that’s never been given to an educational reward? What exactly are we basing these test results on? Can the results of this never-before-given test accurately reflect student achievement given that we are still implementing the Common Core curriculum which is what SBA is based on? And can I add how happy I am that my youngest is graduating this year and heading out of state to college?

The Delaware PTA has issued a press release that sums everything up:

Delaware PTA’s Response to Press Release on SBAC and DE Higher Ed Institutions

In a statement made today by Governor Markell, Delaware PTA learned that the four colleges; Wilmington University, University of Delaware, Delaware Technical and Community College and Delaware State University have all agreed that the outcomes of the 11th grade Smarter Balanced Assessments is a good indicator of college readiness. In addition, these institutions have all agreed to accept the assessment in lieu of other placement exams.

At a time when there is so much turbulence in our public education system, we are disheartened to learn that the conversations that proceeded this major conclusion did not include input from any of our major stakeholders. The Delaware Department of Education and the Governor’s office have publicly committed to greater transparency and collaboration with the broader community, yet Delaware PTA, the Delaware State Education Association, state legislators and other community stakeholders were not only excluded from these conversations, but we only learned of this decision a few hours prior to the public announcement.

We believe the lack of a collaborative process has resulted in misguided decisions regarding the efficacy of the Smarter Balanced Assessments, further misleading parents and students.

While Delaware PTA supports the use of assessments with a growth model that will effectively and adequately measure student growth and college and career readiness, we stand by our previous statements, citing the following concerns with the Smarter Balanced Assessments:

1. In its current form, the SBAC does not provide a true growth model;

2. In its current form, the SBAC is overly subjective and not an accurate assessment of student knowledge, skills and abilities;

3. Our educators have not had sufficient time to teach and our students have not had sufficient time to learn;

4. In its current form, the SBAC does not provide parents or teachers with the individual diagnostic data necessary to work together to support student success.

Although we believe that this most recent development is a knee jerk reaction to HB 50 on the Parent Opt Out, Delaware PTA remains fully committed to engaging in collaborative and transparent discussions on developing a state assessment that provides meaningful data for parents, students and teachers.

Decisions made in a vacuum often lead to outcomes that are misaligned and unsuccessful. Delaware parents, students and teachers deserve better.

Excellent points. Let’s add Rep. Kim Williams’ statement to the mix.

State Rep. Kim Williams has been critical of the stakes that are tied to the new test and has asked her son’s school not to give him the test.

“I just worry that we’re tying all of these things to these tests, and a lot of students haven’t even taken it yet,” Williams said. “We don’t even know what the results of this test are going to look like, but we’re already saying we’re going to use it for all these things. Where does it stop?”

I know exactly why we are tying these carrots to the test. Parents are opting out, that’s why.

Why are we, yet again, facing such a rush? Why are we offering a reward to a test that most students haven’t taken or completed yet? Didn’t we just go through this with the Priority Schools? How’d that plan work out for the Governor and DDOE? Oh, it didn’t? It was delayed and, in some cases, derailed? Wasn’t it supposed to be implemented this fall – with schools that didn’t comply with the state’s terms being shut down, converted to charter or privatized? You’d think this group would have learned their lesson after that much egg on their faces. The lesson I’ve learned is that transparency is just a word they trot out while steamrolling ahead with their charter/privatization agenda. Struggling high poverty schools? Charterize/Privatize them! Parents opting out of the SBA? Threaten to penalize their children. Nice outreach you guys have going there. It must be tiresome to have all your ideas come under fire – especially since your spokespeople can’t answer (or haven’t even thought of or considered) basic questions. Careful, guys, your true agenda keeps showing, and it has nothing to do with actually educating children or preparing them for college.

And if this group thinks they have problems now, consider this: “State leaders say they don’t know for sure how many students will qualify because this is the first year students are taking Smarter Balanced.

Based on results from a national pilot program last year, fewer than half and, in some cases, less than a third of students are expected to score “proficient” on the test.”

They don’t know for sure? Why not? Well, they do know that “fewer than half and, in some cases, less than a third of students are expected to score “proficient” on the test.” That’s a ton of kids, many of whom should be passing a standardized test easily. You know, there’s a universal wisdom in education: If the vast majority of students (not speaking about special class/student situations, but that’s okay because neither are the SBA test supporters) fail a test, then the problem is probably the test itself. Everybody brace themselves. The parental outcry is going to be deafening, and I expect a lot more parents to opt out next year. Good luck keeping your agenda on track once those test scores (and corresponding school rankings) are released. These results will no longer be confined to our high poverty schools, they are headed to middle class suburbia. I’m going to invest in earplugs before the test results are released!

And here’s another thing… Common Core has entered College Board and the SAT.

When Coleman became president of the College Board back in 2012, after his work developing the Common Core, he stated his goal for moving the SAT to better reflect those standards. On Wednesday, Education Week described in detail how the new changes to the SAT align with the Common Core—and presented an excellent side-by-side comparison of the SAT and Common Core that illustrates how Coleman’s goal will become a reality.

That’s quite a goal. Mr. Coleman must really believe in these tests. Oh, wait…

As the New York Times reiterated, “Critics have long pointed out—and Mr. Coleman admits—that high school grades are a better predictor of college success than standardized test scores.” [emphasis mine, because this needs to be emphasized.]

Here’s the deal: Anyone who has been through the college application process knows AP courses (and those similar to AP) carry just as much, if not more, weight than the SAT or ACT. These advanced courses are a far better assessment of how kids will preform in college. Don’t believe me? Go look at the guidance counselor form attached to every college application. One of the first questions is to rate the difficulty of courses a student has taken. Given how concerned colleges are with drop-out rates, these courses carry a lot of weight. Add to that, colleges have already started to de-emphasize the SAT and ACT – many don’t require them at all. If College Board puts forth a different standard for these tests and colleges/universities don’t like it, they’ll drop these tests and/or devise their own. Mr. Coleman should proceed carefully, he could be creating his own extinction.


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A stay-at-home mom with an obsession for National politics.

Comments (17)

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  1. “Mr. Coleman should proceed carefully, he could be creating his own extinction.”

    Couldn’t come a moment too soon.

  2. Excellent post!
    Is this a Markell fast-track to get in front of HB 50 Opt Out bill that gets a House Ed. Cmte hearing next Wednesday?

    And I love Kilroy’s twist in: Delaware Governor Markell approves a two-tiered high school diploma punitive to at-risk students

  3. The Dover Post had an article yesterday on Del State U getting a $300,000 grant for upgrading of STEM laboratories. Markell announced this at a press conference on April 7th. The grant came from InterDigital Inc. I’m sure with Jack’s previous history with these types of companies, we can put this together easily. An individual (not myself or the usual suspects) submitted a FOIA in regards to this Smarter Balanced/University deal on Tuesday, the day of the announcement.

  4. pandora says:

    Yep, I believe this move is linked to the opt out movement. It’s all about the test. I plan on paying attention to the Governor’s and Sec. of Education’s career path once they leave their posts. I can guess where they’ll end up.

    What amazes me about all of this is how this testing is disconnected from the reality of colleges/universities. I’m not saying there isn’t room for improvement, because having to take remedial classes in college is not good – except in certain situations. The fact that this is becoming the norm is an embarrassment – altho, declining students who need remedial courses might go further to rectifying this problem than this ridiculous, un-tested test. But that would equate into less tuition for colleges, so I’m not expecting that to happen. Sadly, when it comes to education, especially in Delaware, follow the money.

  5. Matthew Albright with the News Journal was at the meeting and he was well aware this was on the agenda because several individuals (myself included) gave public comment about the resolution. He left before the resolution, but wrote a huge article on the Conrad Alumni/Redskin issues. NJ showing their bias yet again…

  6. Steve Newton says:

    @pandora–admissions standards are different at all these institutions, but that’s not what Accuplacer has been used for. Students are admitted based on grades, SAT scores, etc. etc. But universities have discovered that, particularly with students in the 1000-1500 range, there is no direct correlation between SAT scores and success at college math. UD may have a higher SAT average than DSU (I’m sure), but UD is NOT so highly selective that its entire freshman class is above 1500 on the SAT.

    What the Accuplacer does is measure students math proficiency against a national standard for having mastered at least algebra. UD DSU WU and Del Tech all use the same cut-off scores for that purpose, which are established by ETS the vendor of both Accuplacer and the SAT.

    Unlike CSW, this really is a placement test and not an admissions test. And that’s an important distinction because it now causes existing math proficiency to be evaluated at that level BEFORE acceptance if we use SBA scores. Students who don’t have the high SBA scores (even though we do not know about that test’s reliability and validity) will be placed into one preferential pile, while those who don’t will still be sent to the Accuplacer, but they will already have been relegated to lower status BEFORE acceptance.

    While there is a boatload of research suggesting that students who need remedial courses in WRITING don’t do well in college, the research on math is much less clear, primarily because there are both math-oriented and non-math-oriented majors available.

  7. Mike Matthews says:

    I’m not one for conspiracy theories but I’m definitely of the belief that this announcement is related to Rep. Kim Williams publicly stating she opted her son out of the test.

  8. pandora says:

    I hadn’t considered the SBA being used prior to acceptance – holy cow! That’s another whole can of worms. And yeah, I never considered UD that selective, but they sure tout that line!

  9. John Kowalko says:

    So an unproven, untried, standardized test purported to measure student ability and capability is accepted by these institutions of higher learning as valid? Who the h**l made that call and what carrot was dangled by this DOE and the Administration to get such an irresponsible concession. More money? Veto of the UoD and Delstate FOIA bill? Is there no limit to unconscionable behavior in the corporatist takeover of public education funds? Murphy’s quotes in the press release are further evidence that stepping down would be in the best interest of the children and public education,.
    Everyone who values honesty and public education and parental/child rights needs to show up on Wednesday 4/22/15 at Leg Hall to support HB 50 and make the statement that coercive, bullying and poorly conceived and contrived unproven standards will not determine an honest evaluation of all Delaware children’s abilities and accomplishments.
    Thank you,
    Representative John Kowalko

    Representative John Kowalko

    Congratulations Red Clay Board (and you also Kevin). All of those Districts and organizations (PTA, DSEA etc) and individuals who have refused to succumb to the voodoo education reform efforts of this Administration and De. DOE have shown themselves to be the true champion of the children and, for what it’s worth, I am proud of you all and look forward to seeing you on Wednesday at the Education Committee meeting. HB 50 deserves and must get a full floor vote.
    Proud of the privilege to represent you and yours,
    Representative John Kowalko

  10. Anonymous says:

    Well said; Representative John Kowalko!

  11. Joanne Christian says:

    Oh great. Another Markellvillian approach to education. No doubt the colleges and universities are just as stunned.

  12. John Kowalko says:

    Please note and alert all potential participants that the House Education Committee will convene at approximately 3:30 on Wed. not 2:30 as previously reported. This should give extra time for those parents, children and teachers to get away from their work day a tad latter and be there. Urgent that you are all there and all (with your friends and neighbors) contact every legislator who sits on the Ed. Committee and tell them to release HB 50 for floor consideration.

    Respectfully yours,

    Rep. John Kowalko

  13. AQC says:

    This whole test thing is a big issue, but it’s a huge issue that so many of our kids graduate from high school requiring remedial courses. This needs to come back on all of us – parents, teachers, administrators, DOE and government. How could we let this happen?!?!

  14. kavips says:

    AQC. What now are called remedial classes, are what was once called Math 101… or Freshman beginning math. The class name was changed from what we had back in our day, over to remedial math….

    Meaning, what I assumed you had in Math beginning your college freshman year, is pretty similar to what these students are getting today but it today…it is being called “remedial math” for its obvious political implications of embarrassing our public school system most likely in order to open its doors to financial investment…. If your expectation is that college freshmen should jump jump right into differential equations (beginning calculus), which is fairly realistic for the top 10% of high school graduates, then all lower levels of math beneath it are now being touted as “remedial”… It’s a curve shift. Not a knowledge shift.

    There has been so much rebranding of educational standard nomenclature, that one must take any current announcement that education is failing our students with a grain of salt.

    Because we do have tests that measure education consistently over time… the NAEP… Look it up. Student scores have consistently risen since the 1980’s when this test was begun… Based on its scores, our students today ARE smarter as a whole than students graduating under Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama’s first term… They are probably smarter than you or I when we left high school’s doors.

    Those who are “‘seriously” involved with national education are primarily concerned that this constant upward trend will flop under the flim-flam of Common Core… Basically, Common Core sucks really big time…. There is a tremendous amount of academic verbiage on the Internet supporting this, if you want to dive in with more detail.

    Simply put, if you take a three foot high bar and preschool kids are having trouble jumping over it… raising it to 5 feet and threatening to fire the coach, will still give you the same results, but you can say those same results are now way below standard…. According to outside independent analysts who as data freaks have tracked educational progress consistently over the past 30 years… there is no educational crises overall… Whilst there may be local issues, overall, there is no crises in education…..

    Todays kids are smarter than their elders, and their elders did fine….

  15. mouse says:

    I had to take remedial courses because I was in high school when Belushi made Animal House

  16. ancoraImparo says:

    A few key points behind the spin:
    *At UD, students will still take math placement. While a student may not be placed in remedial, the results place on a math track. According to your major, you may be required to take pass a general math (not remedial) but a pre-req before you can take the math required for your major. In addition, you can not take other major classes until you rise to required math level. So it isnt called remedial and you do get a credit but it isnt toward your degree.
    * Since Juniors in HS take SAT a month before Smarter, why not just focus energy on this test as it is honored by more colleges that DE. Since PSAT in grade 10 provides quality diagnostic data for SAT. Do people in DE know that some districts are piloting the pre PSAT? So kids are piloting a pre-PSAT, PSAT, SAT model along side of the Smarter testing. Wow. As a parent, I see the first as a more valuable, respected, nationally accepted and normed. Why use my kid to test 2 paths during his secondary years (in addition to other tests)?
    *Lastly, I find it so offensive and such poor knowledge of implementation (or either a dirty unethical commitment to using kids as research data) that high school juniors taking AP exams are tested SAT, Smarter ELA, Smarter Math and AP test (paid by students) in one month span. And SHAME on removing students from AP instruction to test for smarter. DOE has known this for 2 years and appeases with “we need to work this out with the supers.”