A Math Remediation Effort Boosted Students' College Credits. But Did Learning Improve?

October 29, 2018

CEPR's findings about the Tennessee SAILS math remediation program are examined in the following High School & Beyond blog post by Education Week.

College remediation is a big, expensive deal.

More than two-thirds of students in two-year colleges take a remedial class at some point after enrolling, and about 40 percent of those in four-year courses do, too. The courses are costly for students who pay for them, especially since they don't get credits for taking them. And finally, advocates fiercely debate whether the classes do anything to better prepare students—or whether they're just a big roadblock to a degree.

A few years back, Tennessee began trying out a novel solution to some of these problems: a transition course in senior year, in which high school students could master the math skills colleges require—and then directly enroll into credit-bearing classes, rather than remedial ones.

The idea of transition courses has since caught on among states eager to save kids (and taxpayers) cash. Now, the first large-scale study of Tennessee's initiative finds some good news for the program, but also raises questions about its underlying purpose. On the one hand, the study finds that the Tennessee initiative did help participating students enroll directly into college math, and to earn a few more credits compared to those students who didn't take the class. But the new course did not seem to boost students' actual math knowledge.


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Learn more about CEPR's evaluation of the Tennessee SAILS math remediation program