The stakes of getting stuck in remedial classes and never earning a degree are especially high in California, which is home to the nation's largest community college system, with 112 campuses and 2.9 million students. Nationally, between 60 percent and 80 percent are placed in the basic-skills classes Carrillo and her classmates can't escape, leading many to quit in frustration.In California, juniors can answer some extra questions on the state standardized tests in April and, if they do well enough on those, can skip the "entry-level math" test required at CSU campuses; if they don't do well enough, if they don't answer the extra questions, or if they haven't met some of the other requirements, they must take the $18 ELM test. The test is scored on a 0-80 scale, with a score of 50 being required to skip the university's remedial math course.
Remedial education is where far too many community college students begin and end their careers, and it remains one of the most intractable obstacles to graduation, said Tom Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University. Only 31 percent of students placed into remedial math ever get to college-level work, and half of students referred to remediation of any kind complete the entire sequence, Bailey has found.
Bailey's research has shown that remedial education is often ineffective, and students who need it drop out at alarming rates.
I once had a student who struggled through Algebra 2. I grade only performance, not effort, and she gutted it out and earned either a C- or a C. I was proud of her, as I know she worked hard for it and passed the class honestly. Upon being accepted to a CSU she took the ELM test--and scored 49. I figure that, given her perseverance, she probably did OK in the remedial course.