Teachers College, Columbia University

Making Sense of Developmental Education Reform: What Does the Evidence Tell Us, and What Does It Mean for Practice?

Date and Time: November 12, 2020 1:00–1:55 PM
Location: Online
Venue: APPAM Virtual Fall Research Conference | Room 9

A large proportion of students entering community colleges and other open-access postsecondary institutions are assigned to developmental (or remedial) classes in English and math before they can take college-level courses. Contrary to expectations, research shows that these courses generally do not help students advance in college and earn degrees. Low-income and minoritized students are disproportionately impacted.

A growing number of states and colleges are partnering with researchers to rethink the ways developmental education is delivered to produce better outcomes for students and to close gaps in achievement. The field is now at an inflection point: There are many developmental education reforms, each motivated by different views or theories on what students need to be successful. Some interventions show positive effects on short-term measures such as passing college-level courses, but to date, there is little evidence on the long-term effects of developmental education reform. There are also open questions about the generalizability of results and whether effective programs can be brought to scale. Nevertheless, there is pressure for states and institutions to take action.

This roundtable discussion with leading experts grappled with these issues. Research experts offered perspectives on what the field has tried and learned to date, and where evidence is lacking. They were joined by three postsecondary system leaders who discussed what they have gleaned from the research and how they are using evidence to make improvements. The major questions the session addressed were the following:

  • What are the major lessons from rigorous research on developmental education? Is there a consensus on what colleges should (or should not) be doing?
  • What factors influence whether or not evidence is used to make policy decisions?
  • How—and to what extent—is research driving changes in practice on college campuses?
  • What are the big questions that researchers still need to address?

The roundtable included time for the audience to ask questions and engage in discussion of future directions for research and the field.


Community College Research Center
Senior Research Scholar
Community College Research Center
Alexander K. Mayer
Deputy Director
Donna Linderman
Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Valerie Lundy-Wagner
Associate Research Director
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