Reimagining Remediation in Tennessee

October 21, 2015

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Tristan Denley of the Tennessee Board of Regents discusses a pioneering approach to remediation for college students. 

For more on course redesign initiatives in Tennessee, read ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy’s newly released paper, The Architecture of Innovation: System-Level Course Redesign in Tennessee.

With implementation of the Tennessee Promise this fall, higher education is looking to Tennessee for lessons learned during its foray into the world of free community college.

The Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), one of the largest systems of public higher education in the United States, is no less a stranger to scrutiny for its innovative practices in developmental education. Institutions, systems and states have much to learn from TBR’s experience with curricular innovation as a tool to improve undergraduate education for today’s college students.

Prior to 2014, more than 60 percent of TBR’s students system-wide began college needing remediation in math, reading and/or writing. In response, faculty across the system paid significant attention over the last decade to improving the effectiveness of developmental education. Schools implemented and developed nationally acclaimed models around modularization, computer-aided instruction and personalized learning support rather than traditional developmental instruction.

Despite all of this effort, while more students were completing their developmental work, credit-bearing classes were another matter. Overall, only 12.3 percent of the students who began in developmental instruction completed a credit-bearing mathematics class within an academic year, and 30.9 percent completed a credit-bearing writing class. Something had to change.

In 2006, as part of a three-year, system-wide redesign project funded by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) and the National Center for Academic Transformation, Austin Peay State University (TN) pioneered an approach to remediation for incoming students who arrive with developmental needs in mathematics, reading and/or writing.

This co-requisite model transformed their previous success rate of fewer than 10 percent of students completing a credit-bearing math class over several semesters to more than 70 percent completing such a class in a single semester. The co-requisite model places a student directly into a credit-bearing course and wraps learning support around it—through additional coursework, tutoring or labs—to help students to earn college credits as quickly and effectively as possible.

2014-15 Co-requisite Pilots

While Austin Peay’s work and the data that supported it was certainly compelling in a university setting, what was less clear was whether this model would also be effective at community colleges. The success rates for Austin Peay students improved significantly overall, but we needed to see whether this improvement could also be achieved for students with a wider spectrum of preparation backgrounds.

Based on Austin Peay’s initial work, we carried out a pilot of the co-requisite model of instruction during the 2014-15 academic year to assess the effectiveness of a system-wide approach to developmental education in community college. The pilot involved students from a range of community colleges so that we could assess if the response was limited to only an urban, rural, large school or smaller school phenomenon. We also arranged the scale of the work to enable disaggregation across student preparation levels as well as important sub-populations.

Success for us was defined as students completing a credit-bearing math, writing or reading-intensive class within an academic year. Pilot findings indicate that significantly larger proportions of students at every ACT sub-score level completed a credit-bearing class in a single semester than traditionally would have completed pre-requisite remediation in a full academic year.

Math pilot

In mathematics, 1,019 students across nine campuses who would otherwise have been placed into learning support mathematics were enrolled directly into an introductory statistics class and were required to also attend a supplementary instruction experience. The results of the pilot were extremely encouraging. In mathematics, of the 1,019 enrolled students, 63.3 percent received a passing grade in the class (compared to 12.3 percent under the old model). Not only did we a 50 percentage point increase overall, but we also saw strikingly higher success rates for students at every ACT mathematics sub-score. This is significant because it shows that all students can benefit from this transformation, not just those who were close to the cut score.

TBR-math-pilotNote: Data disaggregated by ACT score in order to gauge effectiveness of co-requisite approach for students with various levels of preparation.


Writing pilot

Success was not limited to mathematics. At seven community colleges, 957 students who would otherwise have been placed into learning support writing were instead enrolled in a credit-bearing freshman writing class with required co-requisite support. Of the students enrolled in the writing pilot, 66.9 percent received a passing grade in the class. Once again the gains were strong across the full preparation range.

TBR-writing-pilotNote: Data disaggregated by ACT score in order to gauge effectiveness of co-requisite approach for students with various levels of preparation.


Pilot Data Disaggregated by Race, Age

Further disaggregation by race and age show that these gains were achieved across the full spectrum of the student population at every ACT-level. For minority students, the success rate in mathematics rose more than six-fold from its historic low of 6.7 percent to 41.8 percent. In writing, the achievement gap was all but closed with success rates increasing from 18.6 percent to 63.5 percent in the pilot.

In response to our preliminary analysis of the 2014 and 2015 pilots, we organized three co-requisite academies in March 2015, inviting faculty from all 19 of TBR’s two- and four-year institutions to hear results from the pilot models and develop plans to take these models to scale at every institution across the system.

TBR universities and community colleges are now fully implementing the co-requisite mathematics and reading and writing models for all students, involving almost 60,000 class enrollments.

Longitudinal Look

It has now been more than a year since the fall 2014 students began in their pilots, and our early analysis of the longitudinal data is very encouraging.

The students who took part in the mathematics co-requisite pilot had a significantly increased fall-to-fall retention rate compared with their peers who went through standard learning support. The retention rate for the co-requisite students was 57.4 percent compared with 43.3 percent of the more than 38,000 who were not part of the pilot.

The students who were part of the co-requisite pilots were also more successful across all of their first-year classes, earning an average of 20.83 credit hours compared with 17.16 credit hours earned by those students who did not participate in the pilot. Not surprisingly, students who successfully completed their mathematics class in the pilot did even better, earning 21.38 hours. Students who did not pass math in the fall earned an average of 19.07 credit hours. This is similar to the 19.09 credit hours earned by students who successfully completed their remediation in the traditional model.

For higher education in Tennessee, something had to change—and something indeed did. As the Tennessee Promise program provides greater access to post-secondary education to students at all levels, the focus for our institutions needed to be on helping those students succeed. The extent we have moved the needle when it comes to student success is yet to come. While we believe we are headed on the right path in accelerating success of our students, much work remains.

For further information concerning this study or other student success initiatives in the Tennessee Board of Regents, contact Tristan Denley at


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