Why We Need to Rethink Remediation

December 16, 2018

CEPR Faculty Director Tom Kane and affiliated researcher Angela Boatman share their insights about CEPR's evaluation of the Tennessee SAILS math remediation program in the following Chronicle of Higher Education op ed.

Rising tuition is not the only barrier to college access. Each year, community colleges refer hundreds of thousands of new students to remedial courses in math or English before they can begin their college-level coursework. Only 34 percent of these students ever complete any type of college degree, leading many educators to wonder if remediation — which not only increases expenses but also delays students’ likely degree completion — has become a bridge to nowhere.

A growing number of states, including California, Connecticut, Florida, and Texas, have begun exempting more students from remediation or allowing them to complete remediation alongside their college-level courses as a corequisite. However, our recent study in Tennessee, with a team of researchers from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University and Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, suggests that there is a deeper problem with remediation: Students are neither improving their math skills nor increasing their chances of passing college-level math.

Tennessee has been a national innovator in reinventing remediation, launching the Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support (Sails) program in 2012 as an alternative to college remediation. The goal of the program is to shift math remediation from college back to high school, allowing eligible students to fulfill their math remediation through an online course during their senior year under a teacher’s supervision. Those who complete the course are exempted from math remediation when they arrive at a Tennessee community college. Sails has scaled up over time to reach a majority of Tennessee high schools.


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