The Changing Landscape of Developmental Education Practices: Findings from a National Survey and Interviews with Postsecondary Institutions
By Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Maria Scott Cormier, Dominique Dukes, and Diana E. Cruz Zamora | November 2019
Research suggests that far more students are referred to developmental education courses than necessary, and that developmental education presents a barrier to students’ success. As a result, many in the field have called for reforms to developmental education to address these challenges.
This report documents developmental education practices used in broad-access two- and four-year colleges across the country based on a 2016 survey of public two- and four-year colleges and private, nonprofit four-year colleges as well as interviews with institutional and state leaders. It examines practices in assessment, placement, instruction, and support services and finds that many colleges are experimenting with changes to traditional developmental education.
A growing number of public colleges are using measures in addition to standardized tests, such as high school grades, to assess college readiness. Additionally, many colleges are implementing instructional reforms. The most prevalent of these are: compressing developmental courses into shorter periods, offering diverse math courses that align with students’ careers, allowing students to determine their own learning pace, and integrating developmental reading and writing instruction into one course. However, while widespread, these reforms typically reach less than half of students at the colleges.
Most two-year and four-year public colleges offer developmental courses, though they are more prevalent at two-year colleges. Multi-semester, prerequisite sequences make up a substantial proportion of these courses.
Most colleges use standardized tests to assess students’ college readiness. However, since 2011, there has been a 30-percentage-point increase in the proportion of colleges using multiple measures to assess students’ college readiness. The most popular additional measure used is high school performance.
Many colleges, particularly two-year colleges, are experimenting with different instructional approaches in developmental education; however, these approaches tend to make up less than half of colleges’ overall developmental course offerings.
Understanding Developmental Education Instructional Models
Hover over the cards to reveal the meaning of each term
Traditional multisemester sequence of noncredit developmental education courses
MULTIPLE MATH PATHWAYS
Math course options with content tailored to specific fields of study and degree requirements
Courses in which students work through course content independently, at their own speed
Students are exposed to content outside of class so class time can focus on active learning
INTEGRATED READING AND WRITING COURSES
Developmental English courses where reading and writing competencies are taught together
College-level courses paired with developmental courses that offer extra learning support