University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is…Academic Guarantees and College Remediation

In The View from the OEP on September 28, 2016 at 12:58 pm


In our latest policy brief, summarized below, we examine options for reducing college remediation rates, including a public school district’s offering of an Academic Guarantee.

Last October, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education released Closing the Gap 2020, the state’s plan to increase the percentage of Arkansans earning a post-secondary credential or degree by 50% over the number earned in the 2013-14 academic year. Part of this plan includes reducing the percentage of students taking remedial courses at the college level.

Since 1988, Arkansas has required placement tests for all college-bound students in math, English, and reading. The most common placement test in Arkansas is the ACT. Students taking the ACT can score anywhere between 0 and 36. The national average ACT score in 2015 was a 21 and the average for Arkansas was a 20. Arkansas students must score a 19 to avoid remedial coursework.

College Remediation Needed

For the 2014-15 academic year, over 22,000 students enrolled for the first time at one of Arkansas’s post-secondary institutions. Just over 40% of these students were assigned to at least one remedial course (compared with 33% nationally). Remedial courses are often high school-level courses, yet the cost for students is the same as a typical college-level course.

Remediation not only hits students in their wallets, but also hinders their achievement and attainment. The ADHE states in Closing the Gap 2020, “Students requiring remediation pay more in tuition and are less likely to complete a credential…typically only 25-30% [of remediated students] successfully enroll in and pass the college-level course required upon completion of remediation.” With this in mind, it comes as no surprise Arkansas would like to reduce college remediation. However, decreasing the number of students who qualify for remediation is not just a post-secondary issue. It will take a devoted effort at the K12 and post-secondary levels.

An Academic Guarantee

There are a variety of policies Arkansas’s schools could implement, but Rogers Public Schools has implemented an “Academic Guarantee” since 2004. Rogers’ policy guarantees all of its graduates are academically prepared for college-level coursework. If a graduate is required to enroll in remedial courses after being admitted to college, the district will reimburse the full cost of tuition for said courses, pending students meet a list of requirements. No students have taken advantage of the policy yet.

According to the ADHE’s remediation report, Rogers Schools graduated 1,048 students in the class of 2014, with 457 enrolling in college in Arkansas, and 178 students enrolling in at least one remedial course. Using the average cost of tuition at the state’s 2- and 4-year institutions, we calculated the range of the potential cost of reimbursement to Rogers Schools, finding the district would have paid between $42,389 if all remediated students attended 2-year institutions and $88,645 if all attended 4-year institutions. In the brief, we also include the hypothetical cost of remediation reimbursement for 16 other districts in the state along with a projection of potential costs over the next five years. We show that a policy like Rogers’ implemented in other districts could come at a pretty high cost and these costs would vary quite a bit across the state. Because of this, it seems like a difficult policy to implement statewide.

However, would we even a want a statewide “Academic Guarantee”? Recognizing the potential costs could lead districts to council potentially remediated students away from post-secondary education or to less expensive schools. Also, with Arkansas’s new policy of paying for all juniors to take the ACT, schools could start encouraging students to attempt the ACT multiple times to avoid remediation by improving their scores above the remedial cutoff. Research from the ACT suggests students who take the test multiple times are likely to see higher scores, which is improved test-taking skills rather than academic preparation.

Need Multiple Measures

Districts could try to find ways to avoid paying for remedial courses if a statewide academic guarantee were to be implemented, but the real issue lies at the heart of the remediation policy itself. Currently, test performance is the only tool used to determine course placement and potential future success. This is a decision the ACT itself does not support, instead suggesting a multi-dimensional approach that goes beyond test scores. Research from Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, shows that using multiple measures such as high school GPA alongside standardized test scores could reduce incorrectly placing students in remedial courses by 15 percent.

Arkansas has too many students entering college unprepared for the rigors of college-level coursework, but some of them may be incorrectly placed into remedial coursework. This forces students who could be successful in college to clear unnecessary hurdles and decreases their chances of earning a college degree. Simply using a more holistic evaluation of students’ skills could help Arkansas reach its post-secondary achievement goals. We could ask other districts to emulate Rogers, but we should start by revisiting the college course placement policy.

OEP Conference Roundup

In The View from the OEP on September 21, 2016 at 8:40 am

Thanks to everyone who attended our OEP conference! We loved hearing a variety of perspectives throughout the day. We hope these conversations continue, as they are necessary for improving the Arkansas education system. Here are a few thoughts we’re still marinating on a week after the conference:

1. Pre-kindergarten programs lead to significant gains, but face implementation challenges.

Our keynote speaker for the day was Dr. William Gormley, who presented a review of the research on pre-K programs. In general, pre-K programs are associated with large, immediate gains—and smaller long-term gains— fpre-kor students. Here in Arkansas, our ABC pre-K program has been applauded nationally, but it faces challenges in serving the state’s children. In a panel discussion on Arkansas’ pre-K program, pre-K administrators discussed funding and staffing challenges facing pre-K providers across the state.

2. When it comes to rural education, we need both collaboration and autonomy.

We had many discussions about rural education at our conference, from how to make rural-roadsprofessional development meaningful for teachers, to recruiting and retaining teachers in rural areas, to the impacts of state policies on rural schools. A common theme throughout the day was the need to facilitate collaboration across districts, while still giving rural districts enough autonomy to make decisions rooted in their local context. Our rural districts face significant challenges, and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to their unique needs

3. Serving diverse learners requires systems that are responsive to individuals.

At our conference, we discussed how schools and systems are (or are not) meeting diverse-learnersstudents’ needs. This included a retrospective look at how KIPP Delta has improved over the years, an examination of research on how funding mechanisms may prevent students with disabilities from being identified, and a review of the research on how to best serve English Language Learners. Through all of this,  we were able to think deeply how best to meet the needs of ALL students in Arkansas.

Thanks again to everyone who came out to the conference! We were truly inspired by hearing  all your thoughts, ideas, and actions in our communities, and can’t wait for next year!

House and Senate Education Committees Meeting Update

In AR Legislature on September 15, 2016 at 12:54 pm

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The education committees of the Arkansas House and Senate met jointly this week and discussed presentations on professional learning communities, Project Future Story, school health services, special education funding.


Professional Learning Communities
“Professional learning communities (PLCs) are our best hope for improving schools,” according to Dr. Robert Eaker who presented the fundamentals of PLCs to the committees on Monday. Eaker said that PLCs require three major cultural shifts in public schools: from “teaching” focus to “learning” focus; from isolated teacher planning to collaborative team planning; and from general outcomes to the learning of individual students “kid by kid, skill by skill, name by name.” Some Arkansas school districts already use PLCs, and legislators talked to Eaker about next steps for bringing the approach to more schools.


Project Future Story
Several students shared their “future stories” with the education committees, introducing themselves as seniors at Southside High School and freshmen or sophomores at UACC Batesville. Project Future Story involves a partnership among SHS, UACCB, Lyon College and Batesville area businesses that allows students to gain college credit and even work experience while in high school. SHS Superintendent Roger Rich explained that the effort is creating career opportunities for students who want to stay in or return to Independence County, and UACCB Chancellor Deborah Frazier said participants benefit from the lower cost and shorter time to degree. Lawmakers lauded the students’ accomplishments and the partnership’s work.


School Health Services
In their annual report to the education committees, the Public Schools Health Services Advisory Committee emphasized the need to employ an RN at each school campus so that districts comply with the Arkansas Nurse Practice Act. Presenters explained the wide range of chronic conditions among students and the types of procedures performed by the school health services staff. No surprise that funding was the main topic of discussion among committee members, including the appropriateness of using state NSL funds for nurses’ salaries and ideas for other funding sources.


Special Education Funding
Following up on the special education task force presentation last month, OEP’s Sivan Tuchman presented an alternative funding model using a student-based allocation that accounts for the severity of the disability and the student’s placement. Tuchman explained that funding all districts at 2.9 special education teachers per 500 students assumes all districts have the same needs; therefore, some districts get too much money while others do not get enough. Calling the student-based allocation model “a more dynamic option for funding students with disabilities,” Tuchman said the approach would meet individual student needs while reducing reliance on catastrophic aid and limiting incentives for inappropriate placements.