Developmental Education FAQs2017-11-30T12:43:23-05:00
Developmental Education FAQs
Facts and stats on commonly asked questions about dev ed


College students walking through student center

Before students set foot in a classroom, most colleges require them to take a placement test to determine if they are eligible for college-level math and English courses. If they aren’t, they are placed into developmental education courses to strengthen their skills.

What do we know about who developmental education students are and what happens to them?

The Students in Developmental Education

The majority of students at community colleges take developmental courses, as do a large percentage of students at four-year colleges. Black, Hispanic, and low-income students are disproportionately likely to be assigned to developmental education.

How many students are referred to and enroll in remediation?2017-08-28T14:10:05-04:00

Community Colleges

68%of students who began in 2003–04 took one or more remedial courses by 2009.

Public Four-Year Colleges

40%of students who began in 2003–04 took one or more remedial courses by 2009.

How do rates differ by race and income?2017-08-28T14:20:29-04:00

Percentage of Students Taking Remedial Courses at Community Colleges


Black students


Hispanic students


White students


Lowest income quartile


Highest income quartile

Percentage of Students Taking Remedial Courses at Public Four-Year Colleges


Black students


Hispanic students


White students


Lowest income quartile


Highest income quartile

SOURCE: Chen (2016)

The Road to the Developmental Classroom

Most colleges administer placement tests to determine if students need developmental education, and many rely on placement test scores as the sole measure of college readiness, despite evidence of their questionable accuracy. Some colleges are beginning to use multiple measures, including high school GPA, in an effort to improve the accuracy of developmental placement.

How many colleges use placement exams to determine whether students need remediation?2017-08-28T14:37:45-04:00

100% of public two-year colleges surveyed in 2011 used a math placement test.

94% of public two-year colleges used a reading placement test.

85% of public four-year colleges used a math placement test.

51% of public four-year colleges used a reading placement test.

What do we know about how well placement exam scores reflect students’ college readiness?2017-11-01T10:04:26-04:00

A study of one statewide community college system found that 33 percent of entering students were severely misplaced by ACCUPLACER—either “overplaced” in college-level courses, or “underplaced” in remedial courses when they could have earned a B or better in a college-level course. Using students’ high school GPA instead of placement testing to make placement decisions was predicted to cut severe placement error rates in half (to 17 percent).

The same study found that 27 percent of entering community college students were severely misplaced by the COMPASS exam, which has since been phased out. Using students’ GPA to make placement decisions could have reduced severe placement error rates by more than half (to 12 percent). Another study focused on a large, urban community college system found the COMPASS severely misplaced 33 percent of entering students in English and 24 percent of entering students in math.

How many community colleges use more than one measure to determine whether students need remediation?2018-04-27T14:08:16-04:00

57% of public two-year colleges surveyed in 2016 used multiple measures for math placement, up from 27% in 2011.

51% of public two-year colleges used multiple measures for reading and writing placement, up from 19% in 2011 for reading placement alone.

Traditional Remediation: What Happens to Students?

Among the students assigned to developmental education, many don’t even enroll. And even when they do, many don’t finish their assigned developmental course sequence—or don’t complete their first college-level course or go on to graduation. One recent analysis found that developmental education is most helpful for students with the lowest levels of preparation.

How many community college students complete their remedial requirements?2017-11-27T14:47:31-05:00

Community Colleges

One recent study using nationally representative data reported that 49 percent of developmental education students who started in 2003–04 completed all the developmental courses they attempted, 35 percent completed some courses, and 16 percent completed none.

Another study looking at community colleges in seven states found that 33 percent of students referred to developmental math and 46 percent of students referred to developmental reading went on to complete the entire developmental sequence. Completion rates differed based on students’ initial placement level: 17 percent of students referred to the lowest level of developmental math completed the sequence, versus 45 percent of those referred to the highest level.

Public Four-Year Colleges

The same national study cited above found that 59 percent of students assigned to developmental education completed all their courses, 25 percent completed some, and 15 percent completed none.

How many students referred to developmental education go on to complete entry-level college courses?2017-11-01T10:16:50-04:00

One multistate study found that 20 percent of community college students referred to developmental math and 37 percent of students referred to developmental reading who made it through the courses went on to pass the relevant entry-level or “gatekeeper” college course. An additional 12 percent of those referred to developmental math and an additional 32 percent of those referred to developmental reading skipped the developmental courses but still passed a gatekeeper course.

Do developmental education courses help students succeed in college?2017-11-01T10:22:13-04:00

Findings from a nationally representative study suggest that students who complete their developmental courses are more likely than partial completers or noncompleters to stay in college and earn a bachelor’s degree—but the results vary depending on students’ level of academic preparation. Dev ed helps weakly prepared students on several indicators. But moderately or strongly prepared community college students who complete some of their developmental courses are worse off than similar students who take no remedial courses in terms of college-level credits earned, transfer to a four-year college, and bachelor’s degree attainment. Other studies have found little or no positive effect from enrolling in developmental courses.

What are the success rates for students who are referred to remediation but skip it and enroll directly in college-level courses?2017-11-01T10:24:28-04:00

One study found that students who ignored a remedial placement and enrolled directly in a college-level course had slightly lower success rates than did those who placed directly into college-level courses but substantially higher success rates than those who complied with their remedial placement. Relatively few students who entered remediation ever attempted the college-level course.

How many students who take developmental education courses go on to complete a college degree?2017-11-27T14:26:44-05:00




Any Award

Started at a Community College

No Remedial Courses


Any Remedial Courses


Started at a Public Four-Year College

No Remedial Courses


Any Remedial Courses


Started at a Private Nonprofit Four-Year College

No Remedial Courses


Any Remedial Courses


SOURCE: BPS:2009 via NCES QuickStats

Reformed Remediation: What Happens to Students?

In reaction to everything research has told us about traditional developmental education, colleges, systems and states are experimenting with ways to shorten the time students spend in dev ed and tailor developmental coursework to their program of study. The reforms include corequisite remediation, math pathways, modularization of math courses, compressed courses, and the use of multiple measures for placement. Initial studies have suggested promising results from many of the reforms, though many of the studies did not use rigorous research methods. New research, including CAPR studies on multiple measures and math pathways, is expected to give more definitive answers.

How many community colleges use traditional sequences of developmental courses and how many use reformed models for at least some of their developmental courses?2018-04-27T14:40:37-04:00

Prevalence of Developmental Education Instructional Methods Among Public Two-Year Colleges


Prerequisite sequence: 76%
Compressed courses: 51%
Multiple math pathways: 41%
Self-paced: 40%
Flipped classroom: 30%
Corequisite: 16%

Reading and Writing

Prerequisite sequence: 53%
Integrated reading and writing: 52%
Compressed courses: 37%
Corequisite: 35%
Flipped classroom: 24%
Self-paced: 9%

Values represent percentages among two-year public colleges that reported offering developmental courses. Colleges were counted as using an instructional method if they used it in more than two course sections. Categories are not mutually exclusive.

Multiple math pathways are sets of linked courses designed to give students math skills relevant to their degree requirements and program of study. Self-paced courses allow students to work through course content independently. In the flipped classroom model, students are exposed to content outside of class, often through online materials, while most in-class time is devoted to activities, projects, and discussions. Corequisite courses involve students taking a college-level course concurrently with a developmental course that serves as a learning support. Integrated reading and writing courses are English courses in which reading and writing skills are taught together.

SOURCE: Rutschow and Mayer (2018)

What do we know about whether corequisite remediation helps students finish developmental education and succeed in college-level courses?2017-11-27T14:45:45-05:00

Corequisite remediation, in which students take college-level math or English courses coupled with a parallel developmental class or other academic supports, allows many more students to pass the college-level course, and to do it faster. Tennessee, for instance, reported significant gains after implementing corequisite remediation in its community colleges in fall 2015.

12% of students passed college-level math within a year under the prerequisite model.

51% of students passed college-level math in one semester under the corequisite model.

31% passed college-level writing within a year under the prerequisite model.

59% passed college-level writing in a semester under the corequisite model.

Rigorous research currently underway will shed more light on the effects of this promising practice.

What does the research say about using multiple measures for placement rather than standardized placement tests alone?2017-11-27T14:42:03-05:00

Multiple measures placement systems may combine information on test scores, high school GPA, highest course passed in the subject, and other measures to determine whether students are ready for college courses. At Long Beach City College, which implemented multiple measures in fall 2012, more students were placed into and passed college-level courses.

Placed Into Transfer-Level English

Traditional tests: 13%
Multiple measures: 59%

Placed Into Transfer-Level Math

Traditional tests: 9%
Multiple measures: 31%

Pass rates for transfer-level courses dropped only slightly despite the increase in students placed into them. Pass rates declined from 64 percent to 62 percent in English and from 55 percent to 51 percent in math.

SOURCE: Long Beach City College

For more on multiple measures, see CAPR Featured Resources.

What are the potential benefits of accelerating developmental education?2017-11-27T14:42:57-05:00

Colleges are taking several approaches to accelerating developmental education so their students can complete remedial requirements more quickly and are less likely to drop out, including cutting unneeded course content, combining courses, and creating modularized courses where students only take the content they are deemed to need. One example of accelerated developmental education is Virginia’s reading and writing offerings. In spring 2013, Virginia integrated separate developmental reading and writing courses into a combined course and created one-semester courses of eight, four, or two credits for students at different levels of remedial need, replacing as many as two writing courses and two reading courses before college English.

Percentage of Students Who Completed Introductory College English in One Year


Before the reform


After the reform

SOURCE: CCRC analysis of data from the ASDER project

For other examples of acceleration reforms in developmental education, see the Accelerated Learning Program at the Community College of Baltimore County and the California Acceleration Project.

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