Concurrent Remediation Works, Despite Author’s Arguments (Letter)

For the editor:

The opinion piece titled “Remediation Is Not the Enemy” argues that reforming traditional remediation, particularly the corequisite model, deprives students of learning opportunities in prerequisite development courses. Among the data cited by the author are two studies from a randomized controlled trial conducted at the City University of New York in 2013.

With Mari Watanabe-Rose, we are the co-authors of these studies. The author of the opinion piece tries to leverage our statistics to argue that a subgroup of students assigned to traditional remediation actually did better than students randomly assigned to related courses. There are both factual and interpretative issues with these claims.

The crux of the problems with the author’s claims is that he makes them based on a limited subset of an RCT (here, students who passed traditional remediation and college-level math), and this is not an appropriate way to analyze this data. These are students who, had they been assigned a corequisite, would likely be even more successful. Indeed, if you pass a course that is difficult to pass, a course that is particularly alienating and daunting for many students, and then pass another course, that certainly says a lot about who you are as a student. It does not say that the remedial course made you better. This is a classic example of fallacious reasoning and “cause and effect trading”.

If we could randomly assign people to pass (and not just take) remedial classes, it would allow us to infer the true effect of passing a remedial class on later outcomes. But such a random assignment is not possible.

What we causally observe in our RCT is that students assigned to associate courses were more likely to pass that first assigned math course; and that it has further resulted in many positive short, medium and long-term outcomes, including increased graduation and salaries.

What “learning opportunity” did the student associates miss? If there had been such a missed opportunity, it would have come at some point in the follow-up analysis. Associate students reportedly displayed lower course completion rates, lower graduation rates (associate or bachelor’s degree), reduced persistence, and/or lower salaries after college. But in our seven-year follow-up, we show that associate students performed better on all these measures than students assigned to traditional remediation.

A final point concerns the claim that co-requisite reform is an elimination of developmental education. The co-requisite – which in our experience was peer tutoring, but has since taken many other forms – is development education. The co-requisite provides students with targeted support just in time to do well in college, rather than requiring them to repeat work they already completed in high school, which prevents them from fully participating as students. Our study demonstrates that this is a more effective way to support students with lasting benefits.

–Daniel Douglas
Professor of sociology and director of research in social sciences
Trinity College

–Alexandra W. Logue
Research professor
Center for Advanced Studies in Education
City University of New York

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