October 26, 2007

Panel discusses remediation's role in higher education

Source: NYSUT News Wire

Seeking to draw lessons from her higher education colleagues, Central Square K-12 teacher Heather Gullo asked about strategies that might help her engage her Academic Intervention Services students.

At a session on the role of remediation in closing the achievement gap, City College of New York professor William Crain noted motivational gains from combining remedial writing with content courses - in his case, with psychology and sociology students.

"The teaching of skills in isolation is not working," said Crain.

Many colleges offer learning communities that have students collaborating in applying writing instruction to topical subject matter. For LaGuardia Community College writing professor Lenore Beaky, it's business and health studies.

Testing of writing skills is tricky, particularly in an era of the constant increase of standardized tests for all students, K-16, added Anne Friedman, a professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.

A faculty group at LaGuardia, including Beaky, found that dozens of two- and four-year colleges around the country are using standardized entry tests to steer students toward remediation courses, yet the City University of New York was the only one found to use standardized exit tests. The CUNY professors are members of the Professional Staff Congress.

The 1970 launch of an open admissions policy at CUNY resulted in great innovation in the design of remediation courses, noted Crain. It was a boon to the enrollment of students of color. But the gains eroded with a change in policy in 1999, led by appointees of then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to curtail remediation courses at four-year CUNY institutions.

Remediation courses are the occasion for political contentiousness around the country, noted David Lavin, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School. He said many politically charged arguments about remedial courses are not borne out by research; in fact, Lavin said, remedial students come from all socioeconomic backgrounds and high schools - not just inner-city schools.

More remedial students take math than any other subject. At the New York City College of Technology, said math professor Peter Deraney, students take a computerized test that gives students a second question based on the know-how they show in the first question, and then a third question based on the second one, to hone in on a score within 10 questions.

"The problem is that students are not all getting the same test then," he said, and some questions are not criteria-referenced to the curriculum.