College Readiness and Developmental Education in Kentucky – an update and some resources to review

This year the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) will focus on developmental education programming and policy in the state. There is a clear relationship between college and career readiness scores and college completion rates – and college completion rates with a state’s economic vitality. Are high school graduates prepared for college?Yet none of this will work if we are not in agreement on what college and career readiness is. In a question on an ACT curriculum survey, “Are high school graduates ready for college?” there was a disturbing disparity between high school and college educators. 89% of high school teachers felt that graduating seniors were college ready, while only 26% of college professors felt that incoming freshmen were college ready.  While identification of “college ready” students is not an exact science, more discussions between high schools and postsecondary institutions needs to take place.

Kentucky’s college readiness is legislated through College Admissions 13 KR 2:20. The state uses the ACT (and, among other state negotiated tests, the ACT’s placement test, COMPASS) to reflect common standards for college and career readiness. The Kentucky “College Readiness Indicators” – to which all the public institutions adhere – were developed by the CPE through a negotiation process with all the public institutions. In the process of establishing a new policy, the CPE is now scheduling meetings with the higher education workgroups that handled policies and implementation of the state’s Senate Bill I (2009). You can find more information on UK’s SB1 (2009) efforts on the UGE website.

Paolo DeMaria

Paolo DeMaria

At a recent meeting of the state’s higher ed institutions’ College Readiness Leads, these issues were raised in preparation for understanding our current status in dev ed and how we will move forward in policy development for improvement. Paolo DeMeria, a consultant at Education First, gave an overview of state and national expertise on developmental education and college readiness (you can download his slides here). His presentation, “Ready or Not?” matched well with his company’s focus statement on their website:

“Education First supports organizations that share these beliefs by helping them tackle the barriers that too often get in the way:  low expectations and too little accountability; poor planning and weak, limited capacity; funding that is trumped by competing priorities; system inflexibility and a general aversion to innovative ideas; a focus on what feels right rather than what actually works; and policy decisions based on what makes adults most comfortable, not what is best for children.”

DeMaria emphasized that Kentucky is nationally renowned for its strong progress in college/career readiness indicators: the percentage of Kentucky college ready freshmen increased overall from 34% in fall 2010 to 54% in fall 2013 (see more on this in the September issue of the Lane Report). In addition, in fall 2012 the number of college ready Kentucky freshmen increased by 5%; and, four-year colleges saw a 6% increase.

Several states have adopted new legislation about developmental education and college readiness – see the article at “States Make Changes to College Remedial Education” in Stateline (July 25, 2013) and the research paper “Student Supports: Developmental Education and Other Academic Programs” (Spring 2013) from the Princeton-Brookings Institute’s The Future of Children collaborative. According to a growing body of research, the effects of remedial courses in higher education are problematic. Students’ demographic characteristics (e.g., by state, institution, background) affect their academic preparedness levels and progress toward college readiness standards – not their performance in the prescribed classes. In fact, it is not certain whether remedial programs, on average, improve students’ achievement of their academic program outcomes.

Success in developmental courses should not be measured by course pass rates, but by pass rates in program gateway courses. Kentucky institutions are reviewing these issues through a “Core to College” grant to bolster their college readiness initiatives.

The redesign of developmental courses has not helped in the aggregate. DeMaria gave mathematics as an example. Instead of focusing on the idea that all students must follow an algebra pathway, we might leave the door open for those students whose major plans and career trajectories do not call for intensive algebra instruction – mathematics education pathways could be better aligned to major and career paths rather than a generic overlay of algebra for all students.

Colleges may be placing too many students into remedial courses and researchers have called for  examination of placement processes used to assign students to remedial courses. For example, at Eastern Kentucky University’s Office of Academic Testing, they have attached “age limits” to ACT/SAT scores. EKU has also intensified their collaborations with feeder high schools to bolster curricular alignment to specific degree programs (e.g., “Math Transition” or “English Transition” courses) and to offer dual credit programs. For example, in Kentucky community colleges, learners that would typically be sent to Adult Basic Education could be provided with pre-semester catch up instruction before fall classes begin and they enroll in developmental education. Other successful intervention models include early college models at the middle school; summer-based “pre-college” catchup instruction programs or “bridge” programs; expanded opportunities for assessment (e.g., Kentucky’s KYOTE exams or the KEMTP diagnostic); mandatory tutoring; and, college-level for-credit classes offered with support for selected students (including required co-requisite courses).

More information on the statewide policy development will be coming this spring. Please do not hesitate to contact Ben Withers ( or Randolph Hollingsworth ( if you have any questions.

*** Resource Links ***

About UK Student and Academic Life

Undergraduate Education is now recreated within the Division of Student and Academic Life in the Provost's Office at the University of Kentucky.
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