Policies changed on repeating courses, cutoff test scores

Two new policy revisions at MCCC may keep some students out of the classroom.

The college’s course repetition policy now limits to three the number of times a student can repeat a course.

Previously, students could repeat courses as many times as they chose, as long as a grade of “C” or better was not achieved.

“Students should not need to take more than three times to pass a class; unless of course they are simply retaking to get a better grade,” said Dr. Grace Yackee, vice president of instruction.

If a student has reached the maximum number of three repeats and wants to retake a course, the student must receive permission from the dean of the division.

This type of situation will be approached on a case by case basis, according to Yackee.

As of now, if a student withdraws from a class, it will not count toward the limit of three attempts.

This revision went into effect for the Fall 2011 term.

The policy that defines how the ACT and the COMPASS tests are used to place students into college courses also has been revised. It shifts how students will be placed into reading and writing courses, and for the first time sets bottom cutoff scores for ENG 090 and RDG 090.

Under the new revision, students who receive below a score of 50 on the COMPASS Reading test or 32 on the COMPASS Writing test will not be allowed to enroll in ENG 090 and RDG 090.

Students will need to work on their skills elsewhere until they’ve improved their scores.

Students who score between 50 and 60 on the COMPASS Reading test and between 32 and 40 on the COMPASS Writing test will be placed in 090 classes; students with higher scores can can be placed into higher level college courses.

The changes only attach a bottom cutoff score to the Reading and Writing tests. At this time, students can take Math 090 regardless of their COMPASS score. Instead of cutoff scores, the Math faculty is experimenting with a phased approach to developmental courses.

The new use of placement scores will go into effect for the Winter 2012 term. Students who test into RDG 090 will be required to complete the course before being allowed to take most 100-level or higher courses, while ENG 090 will need to be completed before students can take higher level English courses.

Effective Fall 2012 term, students who test into the developmental education classes will have to complete both ENG 090 and RDG 090 to take higher-level courses.

See POLICY, Page 2

Discussion of the changes began when the state recommended the college examine its  course repetition policy.

“A state audit suggested we have a policy to address lack of student progress among students who repeat courses,” Dr. Yackee said. “The State Audit emphasized the concern regarding duplication of costs.”

The performance audit, done by the state in December 2010, found there were 834 occurrences in which a class had been retaken by a student more than three times. The 834 occurrences were linked back to 684 individual students, meaning that several repeated multiple courses more than three times.

The audit examined the time frame between the Fall 2007 semester and the Spring 2009 semester. The audit noted that the courses repeated the most were English Comp I and English Comp II. The number of students taking the classes for at least the third time totaled 186, with some students repeating the courses as many as eight times.

The second highest course was Introduction to Political Science, with117 students retaking the course more than three times, and some taking it for seventh time.

“The state of Michigan views that as a waste,” Nixon said.

Humanities professor Mark Bergmooser shares a similar opinion.

“Repeating courses is not the problem; the use of state funds for the repetition of these repeated courses is the issue at hand,” he said.

According to Valerie Culler, director of financial aid, a student may only receive financial aid to repeat a course once.

Nixon said he thinks there is a correlation between course repetition and students entering courses who are unprepared.

“There is somewhat of a relationship between repeating classes over and over again and whether students were ready,” he said.

Yackee stressed that the college is not denying admission to students, but trying to better prepare students for college success.

“We are not denying admissions…we are delaying admissions until students show readiness for college-level study. Would you throw someone into the middle of the ocean who cannot swim?” she said.   

“We are doing just that when we enroll students into college level courses for which they are not prepared to learn. Look at the levels we expect…the high schools expect higher levels,” she added.

According to Yackee, the revised policy’s cutoff scores are much lower than what the state of Michigan expects from students graduating from high school.

“The state is expecting all high school students to graduate college-ready. Their definition of college ready is an ACT score that equates to an 82 COMPASS reading (ACT 21) , 71 COMPASS writing (ACT 18),” she said.

MCCC views students as college-ready when they have either successfully passed the basic skills courses (RDG 090, ENG 090, MATH 090) or achieve scores on the COMPASS that place them above the developmental education classes (scores of more than 60 on Reading and 40 on the Writing).

“Our requirements are lower…the question in the future is whether we went high enough for the minimum scores on COMPASS a student must achieve to enroll in developmental education and/or college level courses,” Yackee said.

The administration and faculty looked at how unprepared students affect other students’ ability to learn. Yackee acknowledged that the atmosphere of a classroom can suffer because of unprepared students.

“When emphasis is placed on teaching students content they should have already mastered before enrolling in a course, faculty are often forced to spend time remediating students to the detriment of spending time on the actual course content,” Yackee said.

“Students not prepared for the course suffer as do students who are prepared and distracted by the remedial efforts often taking place in class,” she added.

Bergmooser feels that students being placed accurately is important.

“An unprepared student, just as a disruptive student, can affect the communication climate in a classroom, so it’s important for students to be placed accordingly,” Bergmooser said.

David Waggoner, a chemistry professor, said he thinks a community college professor’s job is to help students to be successful.

“Much of what determines if a student will be successful is beyond my control,” he said. “But what I can do is to make sure that each student leaves my class with the skills needed to be successful in the next class.”  

“When teachers and professors approach instruction with this attitude, there are fewer students repeating courses,” he said.

According to Yackee, enforcement of the revised policies could prove to be beneficial to everyone.

“Preparedness is a win-win for all, the under prepared student, the prepared student, the faculty, college administration, and the community at large. That being said, college preparedness is not a college issue, it is a community issue,” she said.

Yackee said the college and the community are working together to find places students can go to find help if they aren’t ready for college courses.

“Honestly, we have the answer; we know what works…the Learning Bank, which is a consortium of nearly two dozen community organizations and educational institutions,” she said.

Dr. Yackee feels that it is the community’s duty to better prepare students who are not college-ready.

“The answer to under-preparedness for college lies within the community…it is a complex issue that begins way before a student starts even high school. It is a community problem that is in need of a community solution…the Learning Bank is the solution,” she said.

The Learning Bank offers a wide variety of services, most notably in the area of adult education. While it would benefit students needing remediation, the funding for The Learning Bank will run out in September.

“The Learning Bank will shut its doors on September 30, 2011, if we cannot secure funding,” Yackee said. “We hope to continue operating the Learning Bank…or at least the Learning Bank concept.

“The community must find a way to keep its doors open,” she added.

Nixon said he thinks the Learning Bank has had a positive impact on the college.

“The Learning Bank process has been essential to student success,” he said.

The college also will offer some methods of remediation. The Office of Corporate and Community Services is offering prep classes for the COMPASS test and will also be offering non-credit bridge courses.

“For some students, simply better preparing for COMPASS is the solution, not remediation,” Yackee said.