Posted in HS4CC

Developmental Education: 4 Tips

What if your student isn’t ready for college-level classes?

Before we dive into this question, I want to explain that a high school student who doesn’t meet the academical eligibility for a college class is NOT behind. Only students who finish high school can be measured for developmental (aka remedial) classes. This post is for those who anticipate their student may not qualify for college-level classes upon the completion of high school.

Developmental (aka remedial) classes are offered at a college, but don’t count towards a degree. As you can imagine, this pushes back a student’s progress pretty significantly. For instance, if your student can’t start English 101, they may have to waste a semester taking remedial English. Upon passing the course, they are ready to enroll. Most colleges measure English (reading and grammar), writing, and math.

I write about my frustration with this program in Homeschooling for College Credit 2nd Edition (Chapter 3: Behind the Scenes). I’ve observed students spend YEARS at my community college making only slight progress towards graduation because of remedial classes. These students were successfully completing their other college courses, but couldn’t get into the math class needed for their degree. Employees are unable to advocate well for students, but since I’m no longer anyone’s employee….

My number one objection to these courses is that no one ever asks if they work. (In fairness, maybe they do work, but wouldn’t it be nice to know for sure?) Since remedial education brings in nearly 4 billion dollars per year, I understand everyone’s hesitation to break open the system.

When a student approaches a college, the college may ask the student to take a placement test as a matter of routine. This happens at colleges that are open enrollment like a community college, or sometimes as part of special programs that have specific reading or math requirements. Since community colleges offer every level of learning, there is no “fail” option, rather the student is simply scored on a scale. If they hit a certain number they are cleared to register for any class, but if they don’t hit every number (English, writing, math) they will be routed into a developmental class for that subject. When I say “a developmental class” that may mislead you to believe there is one class. There are, infact, many levels. If your student had a bad test day, they may find themselves 3-4-5 classes away from STARTING the class they need for their degree. Sit with that.

I hear your objection “but if a student needs remedial math….” and I agree. Students who need remedial work should have the option of taking remedial classes. The rub here is that students are never re-tested after their remedial classes. So for the student who spent the past 3 semesters in “remediation” getting ready for the actual math class, we don’t actually know if they are ready. What we do know, is that they paid full tuition, delayed starting by 3 semesters (that’s a full year) and are probably sick and tired of taking classes they aren’t good at. That’s a heck of a consequence for a student who just needed a refresher or who had a bad test day.

4 Tips for Navigating the Developmental Class Requirement

  1. Avoid placement tests when you can. Placement tests essentially answer the question about enrollment eligibility with 1 test. For students who don’t test well, this can be a disaster. Many colleges will waive their exam if you come in with college credit or an alternative test score that shows readiness. Find out if they’ll take your teen’s CLEP, AP, DSST, SAT, ACT, or CLT instead. Those tests are very reliable and can be administered with all learning accommodations your teen needs.
  2. Consider waiting. If you expect your teen isn’t going to pass, wait a semester. The last thing you want is your student being tracked into a path full of remedial courses. Instead, use this semester to hire a tutor, self-study, and enroll in other classes that do not require a placement test.
  3. Use college credit as a work-around. There are actually dozens of colleges your teen can use in high school for dual enrollment that have NO ACADEMIC testing requirements to start. In other words, if you expect your teen to do fine in a full semester English 101 or College Algebra course, but would struggle with placement tests, simply find a college that allows high school enrollment without testing. Allow your student to accumulate college credit in English and math. Later when they graduate high school, their college transcript from dual enrollment will demonstrate not only readiness, but college credit. If the credit transfers into their degree, that’s an added bonus.
  4. Look up your state’s policy. Most states have a blanket policy that is implemented by all the public colleges. Knowing if your state has one will give you insight ahead of time that you can use to your advantage. If your state “always” allows SAT to count, then focus on that right from the start. Also worth knowing if your state “never” allows SAT to count. You won’t bang your head trying to get an exception with the admissions counselor when they have no power to make an exception.


College Board’s Accuplacer Video


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit