Transition to College Marred by Remedial Need, Report Says

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A recently released report from the Community College Research Center examines the effectiveness of “transition courses” in use across the country to prepare students for college-level math and English coursework.

The report, “Improving the Transition to College: Estimating the Impact of High School Transition Courses on Short-Term College Outcomes,” discusses the recent use of “transition courses” by many states, districts, and individual high schools, which are implemented as a result of the increasing number of students who graduate high school unprepared for college coursework.  These students typically enroll in remedial courses upon entering college, which are associated with lower progression and college completion rates.

Outcomes for the study were measured by observing which students did not have to enroll in remedial courses once they entered college as a result of receiving a passing score on a placement exam.

Researchers used a regression discontinuity design to estimate the effect of these courses on high school seniors in West Virginia between 2011 and 2013.  The findings suggest that for students who scored close to the cutoff score on an assessment that determined who took such courses, the math transition course did not improve college readiness, and instead had a negative impact on a students’ likelihood of passing a remedial math course in college.

The authors suggest that this could have happened for one of two reasons.  First, the transition course could have taken the place of traditional courses taken during the senior year of high school that were harder or offered a more positive impact as they included higher performing peers.  Or, they suggest that the curriculum included in the transition course may not be aligned with the skills needed to successfully pass the COMPASS placement test.

Most of the students who participated in the transition course did not pass the COMPASS, which is offered at the completion of the course.

Researchers in the study concluded that the intervention method did not in fact improve the academic outcome of students who are unprepared for college-level coursework.  In fact, a five percentage point reduction was found among students in passing entry-level college math within the first year as a result of taking the transition course in high school.

In addition, students who took the transitional math course were found to perform worse in terms of total college credits accrued.

The report suggests a number of reasons for this, including the fact that many students in the state do not immediately enroll in college.  In addition, students in transitional courses are separated from their higher-performing peers and higher level courses.

The authors go on to say that the math course used for the study was the first of its kind in the state, which could imply that Transition Math for Seniors was too new to show any positive results.

The authors noted that the math course used for the study is no longer offered in West Virginia.  Math transition courses in the state currently follow a different curriculum.