Changing Policy and Practice in Developmental Education: Assessing the Evidence and Engaging the Field

An overhead view of college students studying together

October 2020–September 2023

In response to a proliferation of rigorous research studies on the effectiveness of developmental education reform strategies, the majority of states now mandate or recommend that broad access colleges reform how they assess college readiness or change the sequencing and structure of developmental courses. However, it is difficult for policymakers and practitioners to make sense of the growing evidence base and effectively implement reforms grounded in the evidence in varying contexts and conditions. These challenges are amplified by the COVID-19 crisis and the rapid shift to online testing, instruction, and services.

This project will take stock of the progress in developmental education reform and engage practitioners, policymakers, and researchers to maintain momentum toward scaling and sustaining effective strategies. Researchers will write a synthesis of evidence that will identify effective reforms and describe their theories of action, offer evidence on closing equity gaps for students referred to developmental education, and address pertinent implementation questions. They will also identify opportunities for new research based on gaps in the current literature.

The synthesis will be guided by two broad research questions:

  1. Which reforms to developmental education are effective and for whom?
  2. What does research suggest about implementing and scaling developmental
    education reforms?

The synthesis will provide the backbone for a field engagement strategy designed to bolster the field’s ability to translate the evidence into policy and practice. Engagement activities will include the solicitation and publication of responses to the synthesis from leaders in the field; the development and distribution of web-based tools and resources to help practitioners and policymakers translate findings from the synthesis; and virtual forums with practitioners, policymakers, and researchers.

This research is supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305U200010 to Teachers College, Columbia University. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.

Lead Researcher:

>  Nikki Edgecombe