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What to do if your student needs remediation before college

Amy Baldwin, Ed.D.


Imagine that your high school student is a talented and hard-working artist. She’s won several awards and wants to pursue a degree in graphic design after she graduates from high school.

But there’s a catch: Her standardized test score in math indicates that she is not “college ready,” and the colleges she’s applying to require math remediation based on that score. Your student is devastated by this news. She’s afraid her math score will keep her from realizing her dream of college and a career.

It’s easy to be discouraged when your student struggles with a part of the college admissions process. It’s especially concerning when, despite good grades in high school, an ACT or SAT score indicates your student is “deficient” in a subject that they will need in college.

I am both an educator who works primarily with students who need remediation and the parent of a student who’s struggled with college entrance tests. As a parent, I know how frustrating it can be when you know that your student is capable of handling college even though a test score may say otherwise. But as an educator, I know something else — there are promising options if you find yourself staring at an entrance exam score that places your student into remediation.

First, let me share some facts about remediation in college. Many bright, capable students are required to take some sort of college-readiness or remedial class (usually in math) when they enter a university. Remedial classes — which are sometimes labeled “developmental,” “foundational” or “transitional” — are designed to help bridge an academic gap. Both of these facts should make you feel better about the situation should you find your student needs to take remediation.

Here's what you and your student can do NOW to prepare for remediation — or even eliminate the need altogether.

  1. Practice before taking the standardized test again. If your student’s SAT or ACT score needs to be improved, using practice tests can lead to higher scores. Some students use free prep resources such as Khan Academy’s videos on standardized test prep while others hire a test-prep tutor. Either way, practicing the types of questions they'll answer on the real test, and gathering general test-taking tips, will improve their confidence and their scores.
  2. Consider alternative placement tests. Many institutions use standardized test scores like the ACT and SAT to place students into courses such as math and writing. But they also may provide alternative tests for placing out of remediation. Ask the college or university if they allow students to take and submit additional test scores that might eliminate the need to take a remedial class.
  3. Enroll in a summer college-readiness program. More and more schools are offering summer programs designed to help students get ready for college. Many of these programs take place a few weeks or a month before an admitted student will arrive on campus as a freshman and usually include enrolling in required course work such as remediation before the fall semester.
  4. Check out a community college. Community colleges can provide your student with high-quality remedial course options that will help them develop — or refine — the skills they’ll need in their college courses. These courses may cost less than the same ones at a university.

Before you become too worried about your student’s academic readiness as indicated by a standardized test score, let me assure you that all first-year college students are not quite ready for college in some area of their lives. For example, some students don’t possess the organizational and time management skills they need to stay on task while others aren’t prepared for the pace of learning. A student who needs remediation — just like every first-year student — has the potential to succeed if they get the help they need along the way.

More and more colleges and universities are becoming “test optional.”

If your student’s ACT or SAT test scores may hinder their ability to get into college, consider the growing list of institutions, such as Bates College and the University of Chicago, that have dropped standardized test scores as required for admission. These schools are “test optional” and often will make it clear during the admissions process that they do not require test scores. These schools may be a better fit for your student.

 

Amy Baldwin, Ed.D. is the Director of Student Transitions at the University of Central Arkansas and co-author of a number of books, including A High School Parent's Guide to College Success: 12 Essentials and The College Experience. Amy and her husband are parents of a college student and a high school student.

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