Researchers Release Findings from Study of Florida Developmental Education Reform

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Update: Florida State University
July 15, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s community and state colleges are in the midst of sweeping changes in how educators advise, mentor and teach students who are in remedial, or developmental, education.

New survey results released by Florida State University researchers show that college administrators are uncertain that the changes will actually have a positive impact on students.

The drastic changes in developmental education are the result of a state law that took effect July 1, 2013. The law mandates that the 28 schools in the Florida College System — formerly known as the Florida Community College System — provide developmental education that is more tailored to the individual needs of students.

A research team led by Shouping Hu, a professor of higher education, and assistant professors David Tandberg and Toby Park, all from the College of Education, released two research reports from their work in the past six months.

The first report is based on a survey of college administrators at Florida College System institutions. The survey gathered information from the colleges regarding their understanding of the new law, the impact of the new law on their college, how they planned to implement the new law and other important areas.

Survey results confirmed that the new law required major changes to current developmental education curriculum. Colleges plan to make changes to advising, incorporate the use of technology, and re-assign faculty to new departments as a result of the reform.

The survey results revealed a fairly wide agreement that the reform reflects a spirit of innovation as well as increased inter-institutional collaboration in developing strategies, with 85 percent and 76 percent of the respondents agreeing on those two assessments. About 70 percent of the respondents say their campus will add more advisers.

“It is clear that colleges placed advising in the forefront of institutional plans and deemed it critical for the success of the reform,” Park said.

The majority of colleges, however, are skeptical as to whether the changes will result in increased student success. There are also concerns about students’ willingness to take recommended developmental courses.

In addition, some colleges feel constrained by the tight timeline for implementation and expect to struggle with resource allocation and “unknowns” of implementing new structures for developmental education.

The second report is based on a full review of the 28 implementation plans that colleges were required to submit to the Florida College System for review and approval. These plans required college leaders to examine and in some cases redesign and revise developmental education programs and academic pathways to align with requirements in the legislation.

The analysis of these plans revealed that by the fall of 2014, colleges plan to redesign instructional strategies, ramp up advising and provide more student support services.

The new law mandated the implementation of a variety of course structures and instructional strategies. Of these, colleges favored strategies that were customized to students’ needs and those that accelerated student progression, with all 28 colleges applying these course structures. “Mainstreaming” students with additional supports was also popular, but with great variation across the colleges. Focusing developmental institution on student general academic interests, or meta-majors, was the least favored among the colleges.

Although colleges propose unique plans for redesigning instruction, advising and increasing support services for students, there are many commonalities between the plans.

Hu’s team will continue to examine the extent to which colleges implement the developmental education reform and to evaluate the effects of the policy changes on student postsecondary success.

His research team includes graduate students Rhonda Collins, Amanda Nix, Dava Hankerson and Keith Richard.

News Release: Florida State University

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Under a new state law, Florida high school graduates can avoid college placement exams and opt out of remedial education courses — no matter their academic ability or preparation for college — when enrolling in a Florida College System school.

State legislators have drastically restructured remedial, or developmental, education, and a Florida State University research team will document the new legislation's implementation and assess its impact. The legislation affects only Florida's two- and four-year institutions formerly called the Florida Community College System. These 28 schools are now known as the Florida College System.

The research team is led by Shouping Hu, professor of higher education, and includes assistant professors David Tandberg and Toby Park, all in the College of Education. Working with Florida State's Research Foundation, the team received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study the state’s developmental education reform.

“This is the most significant state law affecting developmental education that we are aware of anywhere in the country,” Hu said.
“Because of its sweeping nature, it is critical that we begin documenting and evaluating its impact from the very beginning so that state legislatures and educational leaders here in Florida and other states have credible and timely evidence to further improve educational policies and practices,” he said.

The state law took effect July 1, 2013, and implementation must begin no later than fall 2014. The law mandates that Florida College System schools provide developmental education that is more tailored to the needs of students.

The law gives students much more flexibility in terms of whether they enroll in developmental education and what options they can choose from if they need it.

Developmental education is characterized by coursework completed in college by students who are not ready for college-level work. Developmental courses are generally taken before college-level courses and often do not count toward a degree.

Nationally, about 60 percent of incoming community college students are referred to at least one developmental course, Hu said.

Under the new law, some students who previously would have tested into developmental education will be able to skip it altogether. The methods for offering developmental education will change too, as instruction is to be offered in ways that move students quickly into college credit, through tutoring and other helpful programs.

“The legislation does require some pretty innovative ways to deliver developmental education,” Tandberg said. “Traditionally, developmental education hasn’t always performed as well as we would have liked.”

Admission counseling is mandated for all incoming Florida College System students, although placement testing will no longer be required for most Florida public high school graduates.

The Florida State University research team, which includes graduate students Rhonda Collins, Amanda Nix and Dava Hankerson, intends to study how the colleges are implementing the new reform measures.

The team also seeks to understand the patterns of student choice related to developmental education options and the effects of student choices on educational progression and success.

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