In an effort to improve student outcomes, a consortium of community college educators and leaders recently met in Washington, D.C., for the National Summit on the Redesign of Developmental Education. Through a series of workshops, presentations and breakout sessions, participants learned about significant design principles and effective practices and shared their own successes and challenges.
“One of our goals [at] the conference was to strengthen our pathways so students get to and through their gateway classes more quickly,” says Carl Calendar, dean of English and Reading at Brookdale Community College, in Lincroft, New Jersey, one of 17 participating schools at the Summit. Calendar is responsible for the English and reading developmental-education programs at his school and served as team leader for the Summit.
“We’ve always been above the national averages, but for the last three years, we knew we had to do better,” he adds.
Calendar describes the Summit as well run and efficient. “They made sure we didn’t miss anything,” he says. “People were constantly engaged and talking to each other.”
Like many other participants, Brookdale has already made significant changes to its developmental-education structure.
Brookdale implements the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP), pioneered by Peter Adams of Community College of Baltimore County, who spoke to Brookdale faculty and administrators about the program in 2011.
“The basics are a bit counterintuitive,” explains Calendar. “Students who take a developmental-writing course simultaneously take a core English class,” he says. The same instructor teaches both classes; the developmental class has just 10 students, the college level class 22 — 10 developmental and 12 college-level students.
“This gives the students a sense of why they’re taking the developmental class — that they’re in a gateway class and there’s the opportunity to move on,” Calendar says, adding that the students have more time to interact with their teachers, and it has a positive effect on mentality and outlook.
The difference between Brookdale and other schools that use ALP is that Brookdale does not have a cut-off score: Everyone in developmental education is allowed to participate. In other words, they’ve scaled the program up, says Calendar.
“The students below the cut-off scores did as well as those above, and our longitudinal assessment shows these students are sticking to the college,” he adds.
“Since we started ALP, retention and completion have gone off the charts,” says Calendar. The college started with three sections in 2011, moved to six in 2012 and now is up to 26 sections. Completion rates are about 70 percent.
Because students are successful, they stay, explains Calendar, so the small class sizes increase revenue for the college. “Having just 10 in a class really pays off,” he says.
“We want to get to 500–600 students taking ALP, though it may not always be possible for them, because of scheduling and money,” he says. “We want it to be the default position.”
Even though Calendar considers himself an expert in developmental education, he says he learned a lot from the Summit, particularly in terms of data.
About the subject areas, such as history and psychology, Calendar says, “We never really thought about sharing our student data with the people at the larger colleges. We want to use our data so the whole school sees what’s happening and what affects students from the time they enter Brookdale.”
He adds, “If you’re a history professor, you don’t necessarily know how developmental education students are struggling.”
The idea is to present the data to the whole faculty and let the staff members ask themselves, “What does this mean?” he says.
Focusing on students
The goal, says Calendar, is to encourage students to stay the course.
“We want to change students’ mindsets, so they don’t give up when they hit a problem,” he says.
“Acceleration works not just because of the time factor but because it gives students a sense of accomplishment when it comes to developmental education. They feel like they’re getting someplace.”