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model practices to improve
developmental education, thus
increasing college retention and
graduation rates.
Among the states working
in this area is California, which
has a Basic Skills Initiative,
begun in 2006 through the
community college chancellor’s
office. It helps colleges to
improve their developmental
courses and faculty training
to teach them. High schools
are also getting more directly
involved. In Florida, for
example, the state is working
with high schools to assess
students’ abilities and provide
any remedial help needed
before they get to college.
Bruce Vandal of the ECS
says that across the country
there is “greater recognition
that there needs to be a more
customized approach in our delivery of developmental
material.” One size does not fit all. “What’s exciting about
Tennessee’s work is that it is focused systemwide,” Vandal said.
“Tennessee is far and away ahead in that approach.”
At Northeast State Community College, in Blountville
near the Tri-Cities area of Tennessee, the redesign effort
centered on the developmental reading course, considered the
gatekeeper for other classes. “If you can’t read for information,
you don’t do well in other classes,” said XiaopingWang, dean
of Northeast’s behavioral and social sciences division and lead
staffmember on the redesign. “Once students fail this reading
course, they disappear.”
Work in the redesigned reading course is divided into 20
modules. All students take sections on
note taking and highlighting as well
as test taking. The next eight units are
considered priority: vocabulary, reading
for the main idea, supporting details,
patterns of organization, purpose and
tone, inference and critical thinking.
There are ten extra units that can help
students not only to read better but also
to increase their grades if they complete
them satisfactorily. These include
active reading strategies, outlining and
summarizing, and time management.
Northeast’s programuses a lab
and web-based learning materials.
MyReadingLab, a product of Pearson
Education, Inc., gives students diagnostic tests, various reading
assignments, tips on areas such as identifying slanted language
or supportive details, and tests to determine whether the
student is ready tomove on. Readings include such topics
as planning a trip to the Getty Center in Los Angeles, or the
emergence of jazz; practice tests might involve readings about
a presidential advisor meeting the press, or about human
“We made quite a few changes as we went along,”Wang
said. “There has been a learning curve for the faculty.”Wang
explained that it was understood from the outset that the lab
work must build into the course because “community college
students aren’t going to stay to use the lab” as some at four-
year schools might do. The planners added a reading group
meeting after the first semester of the pilot project because
many students felt lost, with no connection with each other
or the faculty. In that reading group, the instructor covers the
concepts involved. Then students work independently.
In one of the labs, instructor Jimmy Henson was providing
individual help, and checking students’ course notebooks—
another addition after the pilot project began. “We were
struggling with the whole monitoring process,” Henson
said. “Students didn’t know how to keep course materials
organized.” Henson added that faculty were “just relying
on verbal assurances but often found the students hadn’t
really mastered the material.”The notebooks include sheets
recording whether students have worked on various concepts,
and their scores on practice tests.
Almost ten percent of Northeast’s 5,841 students (3,975
full-time equivalent) take this course, and they cannot advance
unless they finish it. “Math is only a prerequisite for math and
science courses, but reading is needed for virtually all college
courses,”Wang said. The student success rate for traditional
reading courses at Northeast was 58 percent, while the success
rate for redesigned courses averaged 60 percent over three
semesters, and significantly more students had A’s and B’s in
the redesigned course than in the traditional one. When the
redesign was fully implemented, students averaged 86 percent
on the final exam, compared with 81 percent in traditional
The redesigned course also saved $41,119, a 51 percent
reduction, by enlarging class sizes and using fewer adjunct
faculty. Using the lab approach allowed one faculty member to
provide more attention tomore students, Wang said. “Success
is the main thing,” she added. “If we save money but don’t do
well, then we don’t do this. The savings are icing on the cake.”
At Henson’s Friday morning lab session, students of varied
backgrounds were working on practice tests, moving at their
own pace. Chelsea Anderson, who graduated fromhigh school
in 2007, is a first-year student who wants to become an x-ray
technologist. “I goofed off” in high school, she admits, but says
now she is learning how to apply herself. Bo Bellamy, 38, was
laid off from construction work in December, so he enrolled
at Northeast State to study electrical technology in order to get
the certificate he needs for better jobs. “It’s a whole different
world now,” he said.
C.H. Charlton, the other full-time developmental reading
instructor, was in favor of the redesign from the beginning.
He had been concerned that when students were at different
places in their learning in traditional classes, some were slowed
However, Henson was skeptical at first. “I didn’t think
technology could be as effective as me, with a degree in
teaching reading,” he said. He became a convert once he had
hands-on experience with the program. “I said, ‘Wow, this is
“I’ve surprised myself by doing better than I thought
I would,” says Tiffany White, who took algebra at
Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee
15 years after finishing high school.
Much of the
action concerning
developmental education
is occurring at the
community college level,
as states work to shift
these courses out of
four-year institutions.
Wade Payne, Black Star, for CrossTalk