Thursday, May 23, 2013

After High School: What's Next?

By Elizabeth Howell, RME Research Assistant

High school graduation is certainly cause for celebration! All of the hard work, studying, and preparation have paid off. Students have taken mathematics courses and learned advanced algebra skills, geometry, and maybe even more. So what’s next?

In Texas, students pursuing a postsecondary degree require a stamp of college readiness. There are many ways that a student can demonstrate college readiness: SAT/ACT scores, TAKS scores, math dual credit courses, to name a few.

But what if a student's SAT/ACT or TAKS score in math wasn’t so hot, and the student never took a dual credit math class in high school? Without one of the many approved exemptions, a student will be required to take a placement test upon enrolling in college. This test will be used to determine if a student is indeed college ready in reading, writing, and mathematics. And the results will determine which classes a student can enroll in for their first semester.

Most placement tests will be administered via a computer, and there is typically a fee associated with taking the test. Common placement tests are Accuplacer, Compass, and THEA. Each of these tests will have a reading, writing, and mathematics component in order to assess a student's skill level before enrolling in classes. Each test has a pre-set cut off score. Any student that does not meet the cut off score will be required by state mandate to enroll in remedial or developmental classes.

Approximately forty-one percent of students in Texas higher education require remediation upon entering college (THECB, 2013). Remedial classes have homework, tests, and grades, just like any other class. They cost tuition dollars, just like any other class. BUT…they do not count toward any degree! Remedial or developmental classes are designed to reteach the material that high school mathematics courses should have taught, and they are required if a student's math placement score is not passing. Completion of the remediation specified by a student's test score is required to enroll in credit mathematics courses.

Sadly, students that require developmental education are far less likely to graduate from a college or university (Morales-Vale, 2012). Developmental courses delay degree completion, cost tuition dollars, and can be a major roadblock to a student’s academic goals.

So how can student's avoid developmental courses?
  1. Take high school courses seriously. The reading, writing, and mathematics skills a student learn sin high school is critical to college success.
  2. Take the placement test seriously. If a student is required to take a placement test for college, emphasize  that reviewing notes and looking at practice questions is critical. The importance of the test cannot be overstated. The placement test will determine the academic path a student will start on, and being on the right path is crucial.
  3. If remediation is needed, take the remedial classes seriously. These classes are designed to improve academic skills, but sadly many students do not realize the importance of these classes because they think that they do not count. In a sense that is true, these classes do not transfer or count toward a degree. But, remedial classes can be the gatekeeper between a student and the degree they want -  because not completing them successfully means that a student cannot move on to the classes that DO count toward their desired degree.
In Texas colleges and universities, far too many students end up in developmental coursework. College readiness is a demonstrated skill, and students' need to take the initiative to brush up on skills before taking a placement test. Practice versions of many tests are available online for free. Make sure students talk to a high school counselor or a college advisor if they have concerns. In addition, have them visit websites dedicated to college readiness such as for resources, hints, and checklists to help transition successfully from high school to college.

Morales-Vale, S. (2012). TSI and developmental education updates. Presented at CRLA/CASP Convention, November 8, 2012, Austin TX. 

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). (2013). Developmental education/Texas success initiatives. Retrieved May 10, 2013 from

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