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How JSU Solved Its ‘Developmental Education’ Dilemma with a Simple Model for Personalized Study

An All-Too-Common Problem

At Jacksonville State University (JSU), we were experiencing a common, pervasive problem. Our students were entering our walls underprepared for college-level mathematics. Like many other schools, to address this problem we instituted a series of developmental courses that cost actual tuition dollars, but did not result in actual college credit.

Our failure rate was high, which resulted in repeated enrollment and an increased student cost. But it gets worse. The 50 percent who finally made it through still had a 50 percent failure rate in their subsequent college-level math class. After all that time and money, they were still underprepared.

No college wants to charge tuition and use resources for courses that do not count toward a degree but, also, no one wants to turn away underprepared students who could be successful with a little help. Some states will not allow developmental courses at all because of the unfortunate possibility of accumulating student loan debt with nothing to show for it.

That’s why finding EdReady, the platform that now powers ACT CollegeReady—the student success tool that employs a low-stakes diagnostic and provides students with a personalized study path to fill gaps in knowledge and skills—was serendipitous. We sought a better way to do developmental mathematics and, after hearing a presentation about EdReady, we knew we had found our solution. Replacing high-stakes placement testing with a student readiness system fit our needs perfectly, and continues to be an inexpensive way to address the dilemma of developmental education.

Our Method to the Madness

We began our bold experiment by asking incoming students to take an initial diagnostic test and letting them independently embark on their own study path to review necessary concepts. They would complete the study path on their own time, at their own pace, in pursuit of a goal.

Our message to students was simple: We are trying to help you pass college math. We told them:

1.) These are the topics you need to know;

2.) These are the ones you have yet to master; and

3.) Here are some materials to help you. Take your time. We’ll be here if you need us.

To our delight, the students responded beautifully. In fact, 31 percent of incoming students who took the initial math test who did not meet our set target score were able to achieve the score needed for credit-level coursework after utilizing EdReady. (More on our setup, methods and preliminary findings from the pilot, in this case study).

But the most promising finding is that it didn’t stop with preparation. The success continued into their credit-bearing math course. The pass rate for math after EdReady preparation has never been under 70 percent for our students, and they are passing with As and Bs, not just ducking under the wire.

A Model for ALL

Students arrive at JSU with a wide variety of preparatory experiences. We draw students from rural areas and almost one-third of our students are first generation. Despite these implications, our model allows us to provide underprepared students a place to start and a guided path to embark upon.

I know our model has been replicated by several other institutions, and I look forward to hearing about their experiences. I also know that anyone who cares about the education gap will be interested in this system. It can be an aid to those who are returning to school after a break and need a refresher. The materials appeal to young and adult learners alike. It is a place to start for anyone who wants to pursue further education.

Onward and Upward

We are continuing to track every student involved in the placement model, and I am optimistic that the success will continue on through a higher retention and graduation rate. A path for success in college math is almost equivalent to a path for success in college. We feel that we have removed one of the largest obstacles that our students faced, and there is a great satisfaction in that.

About ACT CollegeReady

In October 2017, ACT announced the introduction of ACT® CollegeReady™, a web-based system that measures students’ readiness for college math and English and provides a personalized study path for knowledge and skill building. The system is designed for colleges and universities as part of a collaboration between ACT and The NROC Project, an organization dedicated to improving students’ college and career readiness. Learn more.

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ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Headquartered in Iowa City, Iowa, ACT is trusted as a leader in college and career readiness, providing high-quality assessments grounded in nearly 60 years of research. ACT offers a uniquely integrated set of solutions designed to provide personalized insights that help individuals succeed from elementary school through career.