Academic journal article Community College Review

Predicting Performance in a Community College Content-Area Course from Academic Skill Level

Academic journal article Community College Review

Predicting Performance in a Community College Content-Area Course from Academic Skill Level

Article excerpt

Binary logistic regression analyses were performed on institutional data from a large urban community college in order to identify predictors of performance in a content course (psychology) that had high literacy demands. It was found that students who completed college English were more likely to pass the content course than students with developmental-level English skills. Also, academically underprepared students who completed developmental English passed the content course at the same rate as students who entered the college with college-level skills. Thus, once students' current level of literacy skill, measured by the highest English course completed, was considered, their initial literacy level upon entry in college was not predictive of achievement in the content course. This finding suggests that the English courses completed by students between the time of college entry and content course enrollment may have had a positive effect on their achievement in the content course.

Keywords: remedial/developmental education; curriculum and instruction


Reading and writing skills are of critical importance throughout education, and they are an essential element of college learning (Henderson, Jensen, & Stiffler, 1998; Maaka & Ward, 2000; McKusick, 1999). For example, college students are expected to build their conceptual knowledge and critical thinking capacity through reading texts and to write papers in which they analyze and synthesize information from different written sources. However, many students lack the reading comprehension and writing skills needed to perform such tasks (Perin, Keselman, & Monopoli, 2003; Valeri-Gold & Deming, 2000).

Because a large proportion of incoming students are academically underprepared, the vast majority of community colleges offer developmental education (also called remedial or basic skills) programs to help students improve their academic skills (Merisotis & Phipps, 2000). Based on an initial assessment of reading, writing, and mathematics skills, community college entrants are assigned to developmental education programs, college-credit courses, or some combination thereof. Developmental education programs consist of pre-college level courses in reading, writing, and mathematics that do not confer college credit but are designed to prepare students for the academic demands of the college curriculum.

Over the years, information about developmental education students and outcomes has been accumulating (Grubb, 2000; Levin & Calcagno, 2008; Perin & Charron, 2006). Bettinger and Long (2005) found that, controlling for student background variables, graduation and transfer rates for developmental education students are essentially the same as for academically prepared students. A regression-discontinuity study conducted by Calcagno (2007) found similar outcomes for students scoring just below a state-applied cut point (i.e., students assigned to remediation) and students scoring just above the cut point (i.e., students determined to be college ready and therefore not assigned to developmental education). These two groups, with their highly similar scores, differed only with regard to whether they were assigned to remedial classes. The time taken to complete college was the same in both groups, suggesting that, at least, remedial participation did not damage student outcomes. However, the study was only able to determine remedial assignment (via the test scores) but not whether the students assigned to remedial courses actually attended them. It is known that, even in states and colleges where strict remedial mandates exist, bypassing remedial requirements is common (Perin, 2006). The current study focused on the performance of academically underprepared students who were not only assigned to, but attended, developmental education.

An important factor to examine in assessing the impact of developmental education is the performance of remedial students in subsequent college-level coursework (Boylan, Bonham, White, & George, 2000; Perin, 2002; Weissman, Bulakowski, & Jumisko, 1997). …

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