CSU Remedial Education Reforms Show Positive Results

The CSU’s Dr. James Minor, Senior Strategist for Academic Success and Inclusive Excellence, sits down with KPCC’s A Martínez to discuss how sweeping remedial education reforms are helping thous​ands mo​re students pass colleg​e-level math ​courses.


A Martínez: Last fall, the Cal State University system made a big change to their class offerings. They got rid of all remedial math and English courses. Instead, freshmen were placed in standard college-level classes and given extra support to help them pass. Now data from the first term shows that most students who took those classes with extra help did get a passing grade and the number of underprepared students who ended up getting credit, especially in math, rose dramatically. For more we called up James Minor, the assistant vice chancellor of student success with the Cal State system and he explained why Cal State got rid of the remedial classes in the first place.

Dr. James Minor: These courses cost students money and cost them time and many of the students who are in this category simply didn't have that buffer. We have known for some time that assigning students to developmental education courses in their first term is a major contributor to attrition. In fact, in some cases we learned that students, upon being admitted, when they learned that they would be assigned to developmental education, a percentage of them didn't even bother to show up for the first summer of the first term.

A Martínez: I’m talking to James Minor, assistant vice chancellor of student success with the Cal State system. All right now, now when this change was announced, there were questions about how all of this would be implemented, how students who otherwise would have been in remedial classes would now be supportive. What specific new policies I have Cal State campuses put in place to help these students?

Dr. James Minor: Well, what we’ve asked our campus has to do is to change the way we help students meet those rigorous outcomes for the courses. Maybe you're adding an additional unit to the course where a student or students in one particular section may meet an additional hour before or after class. Other models may require students to meet an additional day during the week. 

A Martínez: So they're putting in more time than is what you're saying.

Dr. James Minor: Absolutely. In some cases, more time on task and other cases it’s simply aligning the support—supplemental instruction, tutoring—and so I think what the early data show is that if you give them a credit-bearing course, you give them an opportunity, you give them adequate support that they can indeed be successful.

A Martínez: Now let's talk more about that data and new data from the CSU says that some of the freshmen who needed extra support last fall, 66% passed their math classes in 82% passed written communications. Considering, James, you mentioned it's the first term these changes were made, how happy are you with these results?

Dr. James Minor: You know, I think they're very positive and I think we're very optimistic about what can happen going forward as we sort of find refinements, as we learn how to do this even more effectively. Let's just talk about math, momentarily. What you're seeing in the 66% is the pass rate. Students are passing at about the same rate as they were in previous years, but there's a lot more who are making the attempt and subsequently there are a lot more who are being successful. Right? 66% of 11,000 very different than 66% of a 1,401.

A Martínez: And one thing that you mentioned is that number, that math number—66% passed their math classes—that means it's still a third of those are having struggles. How do you hope to change that?

Dr. James Minor: Well, I think that's a part of our challenge, but I think what we're learning over time is how to better support students and math courses regardless of their level of preparation at entry. And so a part of the optimism that I spoke of earlier is that ,simply by changing the approach, it invites a rethinking of our approach to math. And I think what students are showing, again, if is if you give them the opportunity, they can rise to the task.

A Martínez: James minor is the assistant vice chancellor of student success with the Cal State System. James, thanks a lot.

Dr. James Minor: Thank you. ​​