In late March, a bill before the General Assembly was written to end developmental or remedial classes at all 12 community colleges in Connecticut by 2014.
The only students who could attend community college after 2014 would be those who fell a few points short of (or above) college level English and algebra required score minimums. Thousands of students would have been turned away. The only remedial help for the ones allowed to stay would be "embedded" in their courses or offered in quickie college prep classes.
The type of students the new legislation would have excluded from community colleges after 2014 are my students. I teach the lowest level of developmental reading and writing at Tunxis Community College in Farmington.
Fortunately, the bill language has changed over the past few weeks. Faculty and staff spoke out from community and state colleges. Students wrote emails to their legislators and to The Courant. We all told Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, (who introduced this bill) how our classes provide both affordable education and enough remediation to tackle tough college level classes. The legislators heard us.
However, the newest version of the bill still contains language that will affect community college students in a negative way.
The legislation continues to propose that students can bypass developmental/remedial courses and take college-level classes (with embedded help if they need it).
I understand there are a few students who don't like their placement into developmental courses. They are impatient to get to credit courses that transfer. Sometimes we have let them take the placement tests again, and overwhelmingly they still place into the same courses.
Once students get into my class, however, and see what they still need to know, there is a grudging respect for the work ahead of them. They need time and my guidance to sharpen these skills. Most do acquire these skills and move on.
If we let students bypass remedial courses, those with serious reading, writing or math deficits will immediately be at a serious disadvantage in college level courses, and many will become frustrated and drop out.
Sen. Bye and some of the other legislators think they are doing students a favor by allowing them to skip over the skills they need, but they are setting many students up for failure. They are also going to change college level courses by allowing in many students who are underprepared. Even with "embedded help" professors with unprepared students in their classes will not be able to cover their material the way they do now; they will have to spend time trying to get lower level students caught up — without time to challenge the higher achievers.
The way to change school and college success rates is not to mandate sweeping changes without enough consultation with those who do this hard work. Ask us what we think, work with us, and let us use our experience to improve student success. We don't mind being challenged, but we bristle when we feel left out of the legislative loop.
This bill, Senate Bill 40, should not be passed. A student mentioned in a Courant article, who took AP classes in high school and was angry about placing into developmental classes at a community college, is the exception — not the rule. Most of my students need and appreciate my help to keep moving forward. There are many, many success stories, such as one of my students who struggled in my course but later asked for a letter of recommendation for a transfer scholarship. I asked "To where?" She said "I don't know if you've heard of it. It's called Smith." She went — and she did well.
Someone in your family is or could be one of my students. He or she needs adequate time to acquire these necessary skills with the expertise and patience of developmental instructors.
Elizabeth Keifer of Avon is a professor of English at Tunxis Community College.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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